American actor Aziz Ansari, of Parks and Recreation and Master of None fame, has been accused of sexual assault by a woman he went on a date with.
Earlier this week, the journalist who reported the story tweeted a link to her article on babe.net, and used the hashtags #MeToo and #TimesUp. The article has subsequently divided commentators online.
I talked to a girl who says she went on a date with @azizansari in an exclusive for @babedotnet. She told me, “It was by far the worst experience with a man I’ve ever had.” I believe her. #TimesUp #MeToo #AzizAnsari https://t.co/p7q0fjSsh0
— Katie Way (@k80way) January 13, 2018
A woman, using the pseudonym ‘Grace”, a 23-year-old photographer from Brooklyn, claims Ansari aggressively coerced her to perform sexual acts after she returned to his Tribeca apartment following dinner together last year. Grace claims Ansari pressured her into giving and receiving oral sex, repeatedly stuck his fingers into her mouth, and tried to stick his fingers in her vagina.
Grace tells babe.net that she “had to say no a lot. He wanted to get me drunk and then f*ck me.”After the incident, she texted a friend,“I’m taking a bath I’m really upset I feel weird.”
Grace claims that her experience with Ansari was a sexual assault. The following day, Grace texted Ansari,“You ignored clear non-verbal cues; you kept going with advances. I want to make sure you’re aware so maybe the next girl doesn’t have to cry on the ride home.”
When Grace made Ansari aware of her feelings about their encounter, Ansari texted back, “I’m so sad to hear this. Clearly, I misread things in the moment and I’m truly sorry.”
Listen: We need to talk about Aziz Ansari
The 34 year-old comedian has now responded to the article through his publicist:
“In September of last year, I met a woman at a party. We exchanged numbers. We texted back and forth and eventually went on a date. We went out to dinner, and afterwards we ended up engaging in sexual activity, which by all indications was completely consensual,” Ansari said.
“The next day, I got a text from her saying that although “it may have seemed okay,” upon further reflection, she felt uncomfortable. It was true that everything did seem okay to me, so when I heard that it was not the case for her, I was surprised and concerned. I took her words to heart and responded privately after taking the time to process what she had said.”
The detailed account of the lengthy sexual encounter between the young photographer and Ansari has trended on Twitter, and it’s clearly controversial. Here are the main discussions on social media in response to the allegations:
“She could have left.”
She COULD HAVE LEFT
— Chris Ortiz (@chris_teez26) January 14, 2018
Of course the photographer could have left in this situation, but as she explains, “I didn’t leave because I think I was stunned and shocked,” she said.
“This was not what I expected. I’d seen some of his shows and read excerpts from his book and I was not expecting a bad night at all, much less a violating night and a painful one.” ”
Does it matter that she could have left? The fact of the matter is that she didn’t feel she could. Many felt this attitude is merely victim-blaming.
Why are so many women jumping to defend Aziz — not all women feel like they have the power to leave situations like this. Once assaulted, people may not know what to do or how to act. You can’t always “just go.” Congrats to you if you have.
— ali (@ali_f23) January 14, 2018
Was there a power imbalance?
A perceived power imbalance between Ansari and the photographer had people outraged.
The photographer is in her twenties, they argued, and by the tone of the article, is not a public identity in the way Ansari is. But she also wasn’t dependent on him for work, nor seeking it from him, in the way victims were with Harvey Weinstein.
Ansari is in his thirties, but a large age difference alone doesn’t indicate a power imbalance; they were two adults, who, at least, start the night as consensual. It’s not a Lewinsky and Clinton imbalance.
But should Ansari, who’s built a career on laughing about his extensive dating misadventures, and who proudly wore the #TimesUp pin at the Golden Globes, have known better? Paid more attention to the signals? Is that where the power imbalance lay? Many think so.
“Grace compares Ansari’s sexual mannerisms to those of a horny, entitled 18-year-old. But he isn’t an 18-year-old. He’s a 34 year old celebrity who’s probably done more thinking about the nuances of dating and sex in the digital age than anyone else. He wrote a book about it.” https://t.co/asANWTbmYJ
— miss revanche…. (@jonnoxrevanche) January 14, 2018
Who knew and who covered it up? Will anything change? Can he come back from this? The MMOL team discuss Weinstein
Was it sexual assault?
Many commenters have wondered was this a case of genuine ‘mixed signals’, or sexual assault under law.
The issue of consent helps address that question. This is what Australian law says about consent:
“Consent is the crucial concept in sexual assault. It is also one of the most complex. Consent is the issue that divides legal from illegal sexual interaction.”
The Courts’ and society’s attitude to consent has evolved in recent years. We now all know that consent can be revoked at any time. And an individual doesn’t have to directly say “no”; meaning that consent should never be assumed, but actively confirmed.
According to many on the internet, Ansari failed to gain proper consent, because he ignored every sign that indicated it wasn’t there:
She gave oral once and being forced to touch his dick after pulling sway multiple times, then stopped him from getting a condom and told him she didn’t want to fuck that night. In response, he tried to get her drunk, pressured her into oral, and insisted on fucking her.
— christian (@ikywtoutsold) January 14, 2018
Others have argued that it was just a horribly awkward sexual encounter which the photographer didn’t enjoy and later deeply regretted – a feeling many women can relate t0 – but that didn’t make the incident assault.
I am confused. At no point in this story did she say she was forced into anything. So explain the assault? But a even bigger issue is how uncomfortable can a person be if they’re willing preform oral sex on a person twice? Sounds more like a awkward encounter.
— Mellimel (@lil_bit71) January 14, 2018
The text messages that the pair exchanged the next day suggest that Ansari wasn’t aware of how his behaviour affected the photographer, who does concede, “It may have seemed ok,” before she explains why “it didn’t feel good at all.”
Ansari reportedly suggests towards the end of the encounter, “How about we just chill, but this time with our clothes on?”
After the pair are dressed and watching Seinfeld together, Ansari once again is alleged to put his fingers in the photographer’s mouth and undo her pants – in explicit violation of her vocal, unequivocal “no” moments earlier in front of the mirror.
According to this account, there is the argument that Ansari misled the photographer into feeling comfortable by suggesting they just hang out “with our clothes on”.
The use of #MeToo and #TimesUp
Many argued that the use of the sexual harassment revolution hashtags was applied to this case too early. With an unidentified victim and un-verifiable facts, and at that stage, no response from Ansari, it is difficult to assert whether or not the circumstance can be classified as criminal sexual assault.
I repeat, how can #MeToo be a witch hunt if the witches are real? @azizansari deserves the chance to defend himself, but the corroborating texts & witnesses craft a pretty compelling narrative of consensual behavior devolving into assault. https://t.co/oQAEafRjFq
— Tiana Lowe (@TianaTheFirst) January 14, 2018
One user called for a better standard of journalism: “You’re playing fast and loose with two lives. Do better”.
I’m a supporter of the #MeToo movement, but this type of sloppily sourced, ‘anonymous’, ‘someone told me’ type of thing is dangerously close to character assassination, and risks deflating the strength of the Movement. You’re also playing fast and loose with two lives. Do better
— Henry Gentenaar (@HenryGentenaar) January 14, 2018
The men whom #MeToo and #TimesUp have applied to have been predatory in their behaviour. Even in light of his acknowledgement that he misunderstood Grace’s signals, can we label Ansari’s intentions in the same way?
Listen to the latest episode of Mamamia Out Loud here:
Some observed that Ansari’s text message response when the photographer contacted him the next day demonstrates his true intentions, and remorse:
This is the text Grace* sent Aziz Ansari after their date which left her feeling “violated”. She tells Ansari how uncomfortable he made her feel, saying “you ignored clear non-verbal cues” and “kept going with advances.”
— babe (@babedotnet) January 14, 2018
Whilst the allegations raise so many relevant and valid issues, one thing is crystal clear: no matter what either side claims, the Court of Public Opinion is in full session.