Saturday, August 22, 2015

When is a kiss sexual assault?

I primarily write romance. It may have some paranormal elements to it but at the end of the day it is a romance that ends on a happy note.

When my characters meet they are invariably strangers.  Their first kiss is monumental. It is part of both character and plot.  It rarely follows the "Can I kiss you?" scenario.  They read each other's signals.

Then I read this article about a reporter who was kissed on-air by a strange man.  Full disclosure, the author of the article, Michael Hollett, is my cousin, not that our relationship has any bearing on the discussion.  I am aware of the backlash he encountered because he posted about it on Facebook. Michael has always stood behind his beliefs, solidly and without wavering. I know that because we're family and it's been a part of his personality from before I was born.

All the family stuff aside, the article, and Michael's stance, made me think about how easy it is to justify assault through non-verbal cues.  I read far more romance than I write. I interact with human beings every day at work and at home. I've been witness to, and experienced, sexual assault. In most of the cases I can personally attest to, both literary and actual, the aggressor "mis-read" the victim's body language. In a lot of cases, they didn't care.

Is the skin flushed from fear or arousal? Are the eyes dilated from apprehension or pleasure? Is the breathing ragged from panic or anticipation?  Those are the cues we use to determine whether our physical attention is wanted.  It is so easy to read those signals based on our own desires and expectations.

Honestly, I've never considered the first kiss scene where the hero, or heroine, suddenly presses their lips against the heroine's, or hero's, lips to be sexual assault. You know going into the story that these people are going to meet, fall in love, triumph over conflict and live happily ever after. In real life, that is most definitely not the case.

Are romance novels at fault for that mis-communication? Not any more than video games are responsible for the increase in gun crimes at movie theatres.  There are correlations but most of us know the difference between reality and fiction.

Still, I've given the kiss as sexual assault a lot of thought.  A lot of thought. Just because we never viewed something a specific way before doesn't mean we shouldn't start.

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