If you’re drunk, ‘no’ doesn’t have to mean ‘no’

By From page A8 | February 10, 2013

When it comes to rape, there’s a familiar mantra: “No means no.” However, according to an astounding story from the Feb. 3 Davis Enterprise, “no” has caveats: If the victim is drunk, her protests of “no” may not mean anything, and if her rapist is too drunk to understand what “no” means, he’s innocent.

According to a story by Lauren Keene, a couple witnessed Thaddeus Jay Sonne, 21, of Davis, having sex with a woman near the Amtrak station and called the police. Officers arrived and saw the woman “crying, kicking her legs and saying ‘no, no, stop’ as they confronted the pair” and arrested Sonne. The story notes “… the woman’s blood-alcohol content was 0.23 — nearly three times the legal limit of 0.08 — while Sonne’s registered at 0.17.”

The two were acquainted, and had been out bar-hopping with a group of friends. Were they flirting? Did the woman indicate she was interested and then change her mind at the last minute? Did Sonne attempt to loosen her up with a few fluffy high-octane drinks? Who knows. And who cares, really, because in the end, “no means no.” Right?


In court, an officer played an audio recording of Sonne claiming he believed the sex was consensual. He acknowledged that he heard the woman say “No,” but said, “Sometimes it’s more of a dare than an actual request. If she wanted me to stop, she could have made me stop.”

Right. A drunk woman pinned beneath a larger, stronger man can always overpower him, right? Just like her uterus has special magic to reject an egg that was fertilized during a rape. Mr. Sonne has a great future in the Republican Party.

And … what suspect doesn’t offer a pathetic, desperate excuse upon arrest to try and avoid prosecution? Tell us, police officers, do the suspects reach for those handcuffs and joyfully jump into the back seat, or do they spout their innocence even as you’re fingerprinting them at the county jail?

Yolo County Deputy District Attorney Amanda Zambor prosecuted the case, and rightly responded to Sonne’s inane explanation that “No means no. It’s not vague. It’s not confusing. The defendant is guilty of rape because (the woman) told him no.” Sonne’s attorney, Dan Hutchinson, argued that his client’s level of intoxication “may have prevented him from comprehending the word ‘no’ until officers had approached the pair.”

Wow, what an airtight alibi! Hey all you wannabe rapists out there: Just get really drunk before you assault your next victim! If you’re too smashed to understand that “no means no” — particularly when accompanied by crying and kicking — you’re home free, pal! Go forth and rape with confidence! And in case you’re caught, just keep Mr. Hutchinson’s phone number handy. He’ll get you off the hook.

What a precedent! If you’re too drunk to understand “no,” could you also be too drunk to understand that drinking and driving is wrong, and therefore innocent after plowing over some kids walking to school? Or too drunk to understand that the gun goes “bang” when you pull the trigger and will send a bullet through someone’s forehead? Absolutely! Innocent as a newborn kitten! Whatever laws you want to break, no problem! Just get drunk first! And don’t forget to tell your pals Jack Daniels and Johnnie Walker thanks!

Keene’s story concedes that the victim later said she wasn’t raped, but also expressed “uncertainty” about pressing charges. Hmmm. She said she wasn’t raped … but was also uncertain? Sexual assault counselors, please weigh in. Please tell the audience how frequently a rape victim is hesitant or even refuses to press charges because she doesn’t want to face the ordeal of a trial, and just wants to move on. Please enlighten us about a woman’s confused state of mind after being raped by someone she thought was a friend … someone with whom both have friends in common, who might apply great pressure not to press charges. Inform us about how often a rape victim’s fear, revulsion and shame are greater than her desire for justice.

Morever, what if the woman was so drunk that she passed out and was raped while lying there unconscious. Or worse yet, murdered afterwards. Do you mean to tell me that unless the victim can verify it, no rape happened? Try. Go ahead and try. Pack a lunch. We’ll be arguing for a while.

Apparently the jury ignored these considerations, and acquitted Sonne after less than a day of deliberations, and he was freed immediately. Hutchinson wasted no time in crowing about his victory: “I was happy to see Mr. Sonne walk out of the courtroom a free man — vindicated by a jury from his community — and into the arms of those who care about him and always believed his innocence.”

What a travesty of justice. For the victim, and those yet to be victimized. Because there could be more. Sonne knows the magic “free pass” for worry-free rape: Just get so hammered that you don’t know what “no” means, pick out a tipsy young filly and take a walk near the train tracks. Party time, Dude! If you’re both drunk enough, “no” is just a dare!

As for those “loving arms” that received Mr. Sonne — if you truly love him, teach him what his attorney and the jury who endorsed his behavior did not: “No,” in fact means “no.” “No” is a complete sentence. It is not a dare. It doesn’t mean “Try harder.” It means stop.

Besides teaching him a word that even most dogs understand, enlighten Mr. Sonne about body language: A kicking, crying woman who is struggling to escape is not interested in having sex with you. There was no confusion that night by the train tracks. That woman’s message was crystal-clear: She did not want your penis inside her, and you jammed it in there anyway. And you got away with it.

— Email Debra DeAngelo at [email protected]; read more of her work at www.wintersexpress.com and www.edebra.com

Debra DeAngelo

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