Interesting news this week of the case of Gemma Barker, a young woman who posed as a young man in order to form sexual relationships with two of her friends. The reporting has obviously focused on the sensationalist aspect of the cross-dressing, but from what I can glean, it seems that the two victims gave willing consent to sexual contact with the male alter-egos ‘Aaron’ and ‘Connor’ but that they would not have given such consent had they known that the person they were with was actually a woman. Barker pleaded guilty to sexual assault on both victims, and received a pretty harsh 30 month sentence (bear in mind that two men who raped an eleven year old recently got only 40 months).
There is no suggestion that Barker is transgendered, as far as I can tell, this is a simple case of deceit. Although it raises the far more serious question of whether proceedings could be taken against someone who IS transgendered. I’ll leave this aspect of it to someone who knows more than I do, but I would be concerned that this opens the door to prosecutions of trans* people who don’t fancy going into their medical history on a first date, and legitimises in law the transphobic notion of a ‘trap.’
But that aside, this case is interesting because it shows that the police and courts are capable of understanding conditional consent, usually scathingly dismissed as ‘regret sex’ or similar derogatory terms. I don’t think there was such a consensus when it came to Assange and his condom, for example, which raises broadly similar issues – consent is given but only with a condom; a subsequent alleged decision that consent is consent is consent, never mind the details, is actually assault.
And what about Mark Kennedy et al, the men who had sexual relationships with activists for up to nine years by virtue of pretending to be activists. The women in that case are suing the police in a civil action, arguing that they would not have given consent to sex had they known that their partners were in fact undercover police officers.
Oddly, the police don’t seem too keen to investigate that one. If the principle from Barker’s case is applied, they should be arresting their own officers for rape.
In theory of course, this could extend ad absurdam; false profiles on match.com, or married men who claim to be single. It’s uncomfortably medieval to think that the law would be involved in adultery cases.
But absurdity aside, it does seem that there is a distinct double standard at play. On the one hand, a young woman with diagnosed ASD and ADHD is given 30 months for minimal sexual activity with friends (bad though it no doubt was for the victims to discover they’d been duped), and on the other, police infiltrators maintaining false identities for nine years, not because they were attracted to the women they deceived but to betray them, with the tacit approval of the police force rather than threat of arrest.