You may have heard that Kendra Wilkinson, ex-Playboy bunny and Girl Next Door, has a sex tape that’s just been released against her wishes. What you may not know is that this isn’t a sex tape at all. It’s a rape tape.
Kendra doesn’t really want to be videotaped. She says so on quite a few occasions.
"Please don’t do it," she says. "Please?"
"Kendra," he says, annoyed. "I’m barely zooming in. Just go."
"Can you not?"
"You’ll like it. Trust me. Watch. Go."
Kendra seems resigned to her fate, and, almost instantaneously, she shifts characters, from a very young woman being pressured into a sexual situation she finds uncomfortable to a willing sexpot, grinding obligingly on the bed with a black panther blanket across it. (Jesus Christ.)
As her male companion puts the camera close-up on her vagina, she shuts her legs.
"What?" he whines. "Just do it. Just keep messing around."
She pushes him and the camera away several times after that, each time slipping instantly back into character as soon as he expresses annoyance.
He begins performing oral sex on her. She’s not entirely comfortable with this. She wriggles around and clamps her legs close, against his head.
"Keep ‘em open. Keep ‘em open. Keep ‘em open. Open your legs. Open ‘em. Open ‘em."
They have sex. He has trouble staying hard. He’s gross, really – a balding redhead in his late teens or early twenties with a pube-hair goatee, bad teeth and a too-large nose – pudgy and pale all over.
He comes inside her, even though she’s obviously asked him not to. She makes a face and she rolls off the bed. He acts surprised and upset by her action. She tells him she doesn’t like it when he does that. He mutters something about a blow job.
Let’s count the consent violations here, shall we?
1) She doesn’t want to be videotaped, says so, and he continues taping her.
2) She shuts her legs against both him and the camera, and he keeps shooting and goes down on her anyway.
3) He ejaculates inside her, even though she’s asked him not to.
To review: he performed at least three sexual acts on her that she clearly denied him consent to do. And yet even Sasha, who’s posting about how disgusted she is by the content of the tape, goes on to say, "This isn’t rape – not even close."
The only world in which this isn’t rape is one that sees sex as a commodity transaction in which the woman is the supplier and the man is the purchaser. (Queer sex doesn’t exist in this world, doncha know.) Only in this purely mercenary light can we see this as a "fair deal" in which, despite her protestations and clear lack of desire, he eventually convinces her to "give it up" to him. If she agreed to the exchange, it doesn’t matter what the circumstances are. Doing a deal under pressure is fair game in the business world, where feelings don’t matter.
Thing is, sex isn’t a business deal. In the real world of sex (and sexual violence), feelings matter very much. That’s why the principle of enthusiastic consent should be at the core of every sexual interaction: it says that it’s the responsibility of everyone to ensure that their partner or partners aren’t just not objecting to what’s happening, they haven’t just finally yielded after refusing consent over and over — they’re actually enthusiastic about whatever’s going on. It bears repeating: it’s always your responsibility to find out if your partner is actively into what’s happening. And if you do something sexual to/with someone while knowing they don’t want you to do it? That’s rape. Period. And that’s what’s happening on this tape.
There seem to be three key problems in getting people to see this case for what it is. The first is that Kendra’s made her living and her fame playing by the rules of the commodity model. We see this over and over again — the mistaken belief that women who work in the sex industry or in any way profit from their sexuality can’t be raped. It’s false of course – agreeing to pose naked for Playboy (or even to be in a relationship with a famous older man) in exchange for fame or money doesn’t mean you consent to anything any guy might want to do to you ever. But sadly, a lot of folks still think it does.
The second barrier to recognizing this as rape is the common delusion that sex is one thing — that once a person has said yes or no to "it," that’s all their partner needs to know. The tape starts with Kendra already naked and in bed with this guy. We, the average viewers, are meant to assume she’s already consented to "having sex" with him. But even if that’s true, what did she consent to? Even if she said, "yes, let’s have sex," does that mean she’s consented to being recorded? Did she consent to oral sex on camera? Did she consent to him coming inside her? Clearly not. Even if she consented to any of these things in advance, does that mean she can’t change her mind? We have to stop thinking of consent as a contract, and start viewing it as a process, an experience, an emotional state which can and will change as the situation changes. Ensuring consent isn’t a matter of just asking a question. Ensuring consent means you stay in communication with your partner the whole time you’re interacting sexually, and you listen, and you respond appropriately. That’s obviously not what’s happening in this video.
The third and possibly most insidious obstacle in the way of our understanding this video for what it is is an attitude I encounter nearly every time I speak on a campus — the belief that that can’t be rape because if it is, then rape is happening to all kinds of women, all the time.
The sad truth is: it really is that common. And it’s this attitude that leads to an epidemic of underreporting on campuses across the country: women who are raped, or whose friends are raped, will do anything to resist calling it that. Who wants to believe she’s a rape victim? But denying that what happened to you was rape doesn’t prevent you from experiencing the trauma of rape – no wonder Kendra herself calls the release of the tape "probably the hardest time" of her life. No, refusing to call it rape only prevents you from accessing the community and services that can help you overcome that trauma, and it prevents you from seeing your rapist stopped before he rapes again. And refusing to call this video for what it is — a rape tape — doesn’t stop it from being a rape tape. It just makes it harder for women who are similarly treated to get the help and justice they need.