Monday, August 16, 2010

Your [Female] Body Belongs to Us

In 2004, a young Missouri woman went into a bar. Also at that bar was a film crew for the popular pornographic series Girls Gone Wild. During their time at the bar, the film crew encouraged the women present to remove clothing. Women who chose to could do so and be filmed. The young woman in question, we'll call her Jane, chose not to remove her clothing. She said, "No." Audibly. Despite that fact, the woman next to her pulled down Jane's top and exposed her breasts to the cameras.

Four years go by, during which time Jane marries and has children. Then, a friend of her husband recognizes her from a Girls Gone Wild video and tells her husband. She is, understandably, mortified. Jane never signed a release giving Girls Gone Wild permission to use her image and, in fact, was the victim of a sexual assault because she never gave the other women permission to expose her breasts. She sued.

She lost.

A jury on Thursday rejected a young woman's claim that the producers of a "Girls Gone Wild" video damaged her reputation by showing her tank top being pulled down by another person in a Laclede's Landing bar.

A St. Louis Circuit Court jury deliberated 90 minutes before ruling against the woman, 26, on the third day of the trial. Lawyers on both sides argued the key issue was consent, with her side saying she absolutely refused to give it and the defense claiming she silently approved by taking part in the party.

The woman, identified in court files as Jane Doe, was 20 when she went to the former Rum Jungle bar in May 2004 and was filmed by a "Girls Gone Wild" video photographer. Now married, the mother of two girls and living in the St. Charles area, Doe sued in 2008 after a friend of her husband's reported that she was in one of the videos.

"I am stunned that this company can get away with this," Doe said after the verdict. "Justice has not been served. I just don't understand. I gave no consent."

But Patrick O'Brien, the jury foreman, told a reporter later that an 11-member majority decided that Doe had in effect consented by being in the bar and dancing for the photographer. In a trial such as this one, agreement by nine of 12 jurors is enough for a verdict.

"Through her actions, she gave implied consent," O'Brien said. "She was really playing to the camera. She knew what she was doing."

Stephen Evans of St. Louis, her lawyer, argued Thursday that Doe never gave consent — and even could be heard in original footage saying "no" when asked to show her breasts shortly before another woman suddenly pulled Doe's top down. Evans said the company usually gets women to sign consent forms or give verbal consent with cameras rolling.

"Other girls said it was OK. Not one other one said, 'No, no,'" Evans said. "She is entitled to go out with friends and have a good time and not have her top pulled down and get that in a video."

Told of that reasoning, the tearful woman said, "I was having fun until my top was pulled off. And now this thing is out there for the world to see forever."

This is the same victim-blaming rhetoric that we hear for all sorts of violence against women. If she wears a revealing top, she's implying consent to sex, even when she says "no". If she remains with an abusive partner, she's implying consent to be hit. If she leaves her home in a skirt, she's implying consent for people to look up her skirt, even if she is just a 16-year-old in Target. If our bodies continue to be interpreted by the law as public property, it will never be safe for us to walk outside. And, if our husbands or partners view us as their property, it isn't safe for women at home, either.

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