Before ‘No’: The Line Between Rude and Assult

I was afraid to hit publish on yesterday’s post. Everything in the story made sense to share, but the part of the groping bothered me. This was partly due to the fact it remains an uncomfortable memory for me and because I was afraid of reader reaction.

Crucial to my story was the fact I tickled Zachery because the groping was his reaction to that. The discomfort that came with that, along with his inability to hear the word ‘no’ play significant roles in future posts in the Zachery Saga.

My worry with this particular detail was that I would get a defensive reaction. Would readers claim Zachery’s action was indeed warranted since I didn’t ask “may I tickle you, now?”

The truth is, we were just two teenagers cuddling and watching T.V. While the relationship had its faults, I was still trying to make it work. Even if I wasn’t, Zachery made sure there was little physical distance between us. With each passing day, I was becoming more afraid to argue.

I see a lot of defensiveness out there when people tell stories of sexual harassment or assault. When can someone be forgiven for simply messing around and when does it become a serious issue?

In part, I think it becomes an issue when words like ‘no’ and ‘stop’ are ignored. This week, I read an article about two teenagers facing criminal charges for a so-called bullying incident. These two boys made threats of anal penetration to their 15-year-old victim. They pinned him against a locker, slapping his rear end and “lifting up hard on his butt cheeks.”

In whose mind is that behavior passed off as bullying or horseplay? When I read that description, it seems obvious to me that was far more than horseplay. I’d call that sexual harassment. The question of where the line between rude and off-putting intrusions into one’s bubble and harassment hasn’t been sufficiently answered as far as I can tell. If it had, people wouldn’t get so defensive.

Take, for example, the movie Frozen. As a fan of the movie, I’ve read my share of articles about its popularity and issues. On one such article, a commenter claimed a female character in the show sexually assaulted a man by kissing him.

This photo, “No Trespassing” is copyright (c) 2014 Dru Bloomfield and made available under an Attribution 2.0 Generic license

In the scene in question, the man is ecstatic at a gift the woman has given him. He spins her around, exclaiming “I could kiss you.” As soon as the words escape his mouth, he turns chagrin, and stumbles over his words as he asks if that would be okay with her. She says “you may,” and kisses him.

Couple this scene with that of the bullied boy and my own experience in high school. What makes some of these actions wrong and some, if not right, at least acceptable? It all comes down to the almighty ‘no.’ I asked Zachery to stop and he didn’t listen. Zachery asks me to stop tickling and I did. When that 15-year-old boy pleaded with his bullies to stop their actions, they also refused to listen. When that kiss happened in Frozen, neither party asked for the action to stop.

Out in every day society, we can’t always know the amount of space strangers need. This is true when first entering intimate space with someone as well. Two people dating may cuddle or hold hands, but they don’t always know how close they can get without offending. Some people may think an arm over the shoulder or a kiss on the cheek is appropriate for a first date while others may not feel ready for that kind of contact, yet.

So long as the action isn’t clearly intended to be sexual and/or violent, I think some intrusion into personal space can be forgiven if concerns are heard. By that I mean, if a person asks for the physical contact to stop, the other person should comply. Maybe an awkward silence will follow, but that can be overcome.

Even as I type this, I still recognize that the line is blurry. The words sexual and violent need a better definition. Groping another person’s private parts would certainly be considered sexual, but what about a hand on the leg or hip? The same goes for violence. Punching someone in the face is clearly violent, but what about verbal threats? Is there such thing as mental violence?

A line needs to be drawn somewhere. If we say that all forms of physical contact are initially okay until someone says no, we are saying the action is okay so long as the word ‘no’ is not said. On the flip side, if we need to ask permission before every form of contact, we’ll be in a world where people ask before shaking hands or patting someone on the shoulder. Both of those worlds seem rather extreme to me. Isn’t there a happy middle?

I have to say though, if those two realities are our only options, I’d much prefer the one where people ask permission first. Sure, it’s be a little tedious, but it’s far better than justifying assault so long as the word ‘no’ isn’t spoken.

What is the difference between politely or innocently touching someone and assaulting someone? Is it really as simple as the body part being touched? Why does humankind tend towards extremes on so many issues? Can’t we reach a happy medium?


I’ve worked my butt off this week to get post prepared for the holiday weekend. Don’t fear, ChapterTK will not remain silent over The next three days. That said, my access to the interwebs will be severely limited, so I may not get to comments until Monday evening.  Please forgive my short silence and rest assured that I am reading every one of your comments with zeal! I’m thrilled to have you all here discussing these crazy topics with me. You guys have all my love. Have a fantastic Memorial Day weekend!


40 thoughts on “Before ‘No’: The Line Between Rude and Assult”

  1. I’ve read stories in which a pre school child kissed a classmate and was disciplined for it. I would hazard a guess and say that whenever this child was happy or thankful at home, he would show appreciation by giving a kiss and merely brought this behavior to school. I don’t see an issue with it. So, as a society, we over react in this situation and don’t realize it for what it was. Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar. Absent of childhood innocence, I would agree that touching in overt ways, sexual or violent, is unacceptable, but knowing who you’re talking to goes a long way in differentiating the intent.

    1. That is one situation where the word no would matter. He’s just a kid and should be forgiven, however, if he kissed a classmate, that classmate told him to stop, and he kept trying to kiss them, now we have a problem. Obviously, the child shouldn’t be disciplined in the same way a teenager or adult would be, but he needs to understand why that was so wrong

      but it still leaves the line fuzzy. Maybe we lack the understanding to say “these are the actions that are assault, and these are actions that are just horseplay.”

      1. I would say that if you have children, especially at the toddler stage, that explaining right from wrong would be difficult. I don’t agree that the action should be described as ‘so wrong’ either. Perhaps explaining to the child that it’s ok to kiss mom or dad, but at school we just say thank you.

        1. I don’t mean the act of kissing is wrong, but that if he did it, the girl asked him to stop and then he kept trying to kiss her, ignoring her request that he stop would be that part that was wrong.

          Otherwise, how is he supposed to understand? I’ve babysat my fair share of young children and sometimes they do things like that if only because they’re mimicking their parents.

  2. Frankly, I suspect there is no good solution to this problem, because everyone’s definition of what’s offensive or intrusive differs – and to a large extent it depends upon the person performing the act in question. I have many non-romantic relationships with both men and women that involve a certain amount of physical affection and it’s never a problem. Yet there are other individuals in my world whom I find so repugnant that if they were merely to brush elbows with me I would feel assaulted. It’s unfortunate that so many of the situations in which we find ourselves involve nuances of behavior and emotion that can’t be distilled down into okay vs. not okay. But I agree that the verbal approach is probably as close as we are going to get. Clearly no means no, and everyone ought to be able to understand that.

    1. No means no is one thing, but then I wonder about actions taken before no is said. Like, what’s the line between goofing around and sexual harassment? I guess I’m talking about the law here. There needs to be a line drawn somewhere and even if there is, not everyone will agree.

  3. I love these articles. And pretty much the same as the bubble article.
    I think we should all know what is in appropriate on a first meet basis.
    The saying No is a good indicator or the hand removing from the thight just the same.

    And it is than a common courtesy or should be that we respect the wishes of the ‘NO’ Given.But as stated above. different relationships have different standards.

    To be grossed out by an elbow rub is purely made on eye level. (taking it as example) A maybe prejudice assumption. He is a bum so it is filthy and what not. (just an example)
    When you know a person it changes the dynamic.

    Simply showing decency, a common courtesy as not to think everything is a go. No need for a little slap on the ass to get attention. tap on the shoulder. but when you truly know the person as your lover that changes. but that is AFTER agreeing and knowing.

    As for those kids. it is taking it to far. Though we have a show these days that addresses bullying. And it can be shocking.

    That said we do a lot of keeping people (prejudice maybe) away.making people scared to even want to get closer. (feeling unwanted)
    can we even change that.

    1. It’s just frustrating to me that someone could look at those teen’s actions and only call that bullying. To me, their actions clearly crossed the line to assault. While society may always be in flux about what is and isn’t too much contact, the law should be specific about what warrants an assault.

      1. I was not meant to call you example as bullying. it is assault.

        Just saying that a program here is showing bullies beating a kid up and calling it bullying them self on that show.
        Maybe Youtube help there though it would be in Dutch. It is called Project P stop het pesten. (stop the bullying) I am wi.lling to make a transcript of an episode.!/project-p-stop-het-pesten-304895/ead109aa-2a73-323c-bed4-63fbd8317435

        The talk between this class and the bullied have been forbidden by a judge. How far does a law go.
        it is a show i cannot watch without tear,.so much is going wrong. And bullying is just considered a small offencive thing.

        1. Forgot to mention the boy in that video was denied entry to his school by the school. he was to blame for his own actions (tv show) The school did not want the bad news. Those are the adults for you who should protect our children.

  4. I don’t think basing things on the word “no” is right. There are other clear indications where attention– yes, I mean attention, which includes words and non-verbal communication– is unwanted.

    This is a sore spot because other bloggers I follow have been writing about sexual harrassment and bullying. And while it more often affects women than it does men, I shared that I had experienced this. Few of the incidents I shared involved touching or the word “no” whatsoever. But I was still objectified, ridiculed, and shamed. One in particular– I removed all my contact information from the school before I left because the harrassing e-mails, phone calls, and whispers would NOT stop.

    1. That’s what I was saying. To me, it’s 100% certain that if a person says no and their assailant doesn’t stop that the action against them is wrong. If that action is of a sexual nature, it’s a sexual assault. But to base right and wrong on know is flawed. What if an person lacks the ability to say no? An assault would still be an assault.

      The definition of what is and isn’t a sexual assault needs to be improved and, honestly, any mention of gender needs to be removed. Even though men may be more likely to be assailants and women more likely to be victims, anyone of any gender and any sexuality can be on either side. The law should acknowledge that and protect all victims.

      1. Yeah… of course, though, getting that into the law in clear and unmistakable terms is very difficult. I do agree that we should nevertheless frame assault legislation in genderless terms. Assault and violence against anyone is wrong, period.

  5. This is a really good issue to bring up; I really think the difference between innocent harmful touching lives in the sphere of intent, more than anything else. The only problem with that is that… how do you gauge intent? A touch might be innocent, accidental – on the other hand, there’s the guy who pretends to stumble and then gropes or touches some part of you – depending on a person’s reaction to that, the intent behind a touch may be correctly or incorrectly identified. “Oh, sorry –” tends to be the thing they say here, in either case.

    So we have the word “no”. I think that’s a pretty effective tool, but in cases where it’s not said, you also have certain factors – aggravating factors that help identify violent action as well. I mean, even if that little kid that was bullied didn’t say no don’t do that, you still have the actions by the bullies is very clearly bullying and it’s very clearly sexual assault in my point of view; I’ve pulled that card out before. I’m not afraid to do that. But you know you have the dynamic between boys where there’s still this stigma against homosexuality so a lot of times what qualifies as sexual assault they might not even think to qualify as such. So sometimes the topic doesn’t come up.

    Now I’m going to vilify myself here by giving you a little quid pro quo : I’m not innocent of some of these behaviors. I was never the bully, rather the one bullied — but I was also in my teens a huge knot of sexual frustration. It’s nature’s way of getting the human species to procreation, but society says we’re not ready at that point, and I agree ; but that’s probably why guys that age are so driven to get laid, because they’re living with the intense hormonal urges and some of us actually worried that if we didn’t get it legitimately that we’d do something terrible. Unfortunately like you, I felt like nobody seemed to want me and that was my story for a long long time.

    Some years later when a few girls did start to like me I actually pulled a “Zachery” with my then-girlfriend, and when she made it clear she didn’t like that, I immediately was ashamed and the incidents were not repeated. That was not my first breach of protocol, and not my worst, but it was probably the last — I was about 20 years old at the time and right at the beginning of a very long road of self-improvement. At some point I figured out that was long overdue because as a lone wolf who’d been brought up with very little guidance from either side of my parentage (believe me, I was almost literally raised by the TV) I would continually sabotage my own life until I learned to be a better person.

    Long story short, we can only hope that ultimately, Zachery ended up a better person than he appears to be in your account, and by saying so I mean in no way to mitigate your own experience.

    And whoever said that thing about Frozen — I respect their right to their opinion, but I also think they’re just taking the definition too far. Some girls want to be swept off their feet and some prefer to take it slower; I think it’s possible that the media idealizes the latter as an exemplification of extroversion in courtship. Does that sound plausible?

    1. I don’t fault Zachery’s initial action nor do I fault any boy/man for waiting to ‘get laid.’ Rather, I see fault when they keep pressuring despite hearing the word no. That’s where things start to get scary. No amount of hormonal activity should be so strong as to blind a person of another’s humanity. What I’m saying is, making a move is not the problem. Ignoring a person’s wishes that the actions come to a halt is the problem.

      I think the thing about Frozen was supposed to be sarcastic. Basically, he was making fun of people who he feels make ridiculous sexual assault claims. He thought those claims were as stupid as claiming that scene in Frozen was a sexual assault. Also, I think he was wrong and equally wrong to assume a person who feels violated wasn’t actually violated. You can argue whether the law should intervene on various actions, but a person has the right to feel violated regardless.

  6. There is such a thing as verbal assault and mental abuse, yes. I do think there needs to be some sort of better definition because we end up with situations like this: A preschool student holds the hand of another student and kisses her on the hand. He is facing charges that will go on his record.
    Now I can’t remember the details of this story, but my immediate thought was that it was ridiculous because the child doesn’t even know what sex is! A happy medium can be hard to reach because we are so diverse in our preferences. What may feel totally fine to one person may be considered offensive to another. Bottom line though, no means no. I think this was a great post and touches on a subject that needs to be talked about. Reblog* 😀

    1. What you describe with the child is precisely why there needs to be a better definition. That sort of action is so simple it should never be confused with a sexual assault. Even if an adult stranger walked up to me and did that today, that should not legally be considered a sexual assault. At the same time, the actions of those bullies should not be swept under the rug as a simple bullying event. What they did was indeed assault. In order to a)protect people from being needlessly accused and b)protect victims from having their assaults justified, the definition should be far more specific.

      Now, if a person walks up to me, holds my hand and kisses it, I have a right to feel violated, but the law should show the action wasn’t sever enough to be called assault. Just like other things in the world. I can lie and the law doesn’t care, but if I lie on my taxes, now the law gets involved. So we have defined what sorts of lies are so bad that they warrant action by law. I don’t see why assaults can’t be defined the same way.

      1. I don’t either and it’s so rampant, it happens on a daily basis. I think that really shows testament to where our priorities lie. Profits over people and that’s just not right. I think you nailed that down incredibly and I totally agree.

  7. Interesting food for thought. I think the body parts touched definitely makes a difference because symbolically, different parts mean different things, and so the touch is experienced in different ways. Our whole world is symbolic, containing no inherent meaning — or most of it, anyway.

    But I don’t see how that scene from Frozen can be interpreted as assault. One person asks another if they could kiss them, and then is kissed by them. By asking for the kiss they have said that they would like that sort of thing.

    1. But some people have different symbolism for different body parts. However, in terms of the law, I think we can all agree on a handful of key body parts that are always sexual symbolic.

      The guy talking about Frozen was just being stupid. He was trying to claim that the Frozen scene was equal to what many women claim is sexual assault and that, if the genders in the scene were switched, people would be crying assault. No very much disagree, but I hear arguments like that all the time.

  8. These are good questions. It’s tough to draw a line anywhere. But like the good justice said, “I know it when I see it.”

    1. But you can’t make a law based on “I know it when I see it.” Some things which people may feel violated by probably don’t deserve to have the law intervene, but there has to be some kind of specific definition. No one should be seriously sexually assaulted only to have the law say it was merely horseplay.

      1. Actually, that’s exactly what you can do. This might surprise you, but laws can only be so specific in their writing. Of course there is a definition, but lawyers can argue each word in the definition on a case-by-case basis… And then it’s up to a judge or even a jury to decide what the result is.

  9. The body also speaks. When a person is made to feel scared, intimidated, or paralyzed, this state can be read in a person’s body, on a person’s face. Sadly, violent people are often masters of creating conditions under which the person under attack is barely able to speak or react. But when the body says no…when something feels wrong, it’s wrong. Thank you for this post, and thank you for checking out Narc in the Maze.

    1. Thanks for coming by and reading. And, of course, the question still remains, when a person ignores the body language or vocal plea to stop, when does it just become rude and when does it become an assault?

      1. I suppose the definition of assault is a legal matter, and depends on the details of any given situation… But can it be that scaring and intimidating a person to the point where they feel paralyzed to act or speak on their own behalf is simply the prelude to a violation of decorum or good manners? If it is, it would certainly seem to be an expansion of what “rudeness” might intrinsically include.

      2. I think we MUST teach our children to state what they want. Please stop needs to be a totally acceptable thing to say without the fear of repercussions. I am working on this with my middle daughter who loves to hug people. When the little boys at the school say no or run away, I’m teaching her that this is a signal to stop and she needs to lay off. I’m teaching her in the most gentle but clear way I know because they must learn it but they also must not have their personality or innocence squashed. It’s soooo hard to teach this. This is why we as parents must be at our best all the time. Get enough sleep and have lots of energy because it’s HARD work being a parent.I am guilty of not doing this even when I need to so badly. – the wifey

  10. It really is a fine line, but surely by that age he should have known that grabbing a breast was not appropriate. Hopefully by saying no you taught him a valuable lesson that he could take forward in life. And don’t feel bad for posting it. It’s your honesty that makes people (including me) love this blog.

    1. Given future events, he didn’t learn anything. This was demonstrated even back then, as he so rarely listened to me when I said ‘no’ or ‘stop.’

  11. Society is always in flux. It is the one thing which I will say does evolve. Especially in our time frame of existence it does so faster than we would like to see it. There are those who are still alive who can remember ‘when’ things we are a lot different in every way. Times are changing and it is harder Today to see those lines which in decades past were very distinct and well established. That dose not make them more right because of those ancient classifications. It just shows that our culture with the internet evolves much more quickly and some would say as fast as the Earth turns. So what does it all boil down to when we want to define those distinctions? We must define them first for ourselves and do not blur them or send mixed messages to those around us. We need to set limits and make them as distinctly defined as our own personality or even our job. Then we need to make sure we ask, communication is still the best kept secret of human language. Animals still do; what has happened to the human being? I don’t know how we lost the ability, but it seems a caveman grunt means more than a word like ‘no’ or ‘wait’ or even the word love has lost it’s connotation. I don’t know how our present society lost these well defined characteristics? I know someone else knows better than I. However those personal and social boundaries are like the old stone walls around one’s property; they stood for more than just defining one’s own land. If we are going to make the same distinctions Today, we need to say, “This is my stone wall of my own property ‘no trespassing’ till I give you permission; and when I do it is on a limited basis till there be a greater or deeper relationship I have with you – and as always – it is mine to say how, when, what where and if I want to tell you why – I can or don’t have to.

    1. I agree with all you say, but my concern is really with the law. When someone doesn’t listen when you say “This is my stone wall of my own property ‘no trespassing,'” referring to their body, and that wish is ignored, when is that action simply rude and when should it be considered assault or worse under the law? People don’t go to jail for being rude a**holes, but they should for seriously assaulting someone.

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