Narcissists have no boundaries. They don’t care about others beyond what they can take from them. Their acts of giving are simply a covert scheme to get what they want.
Early-on in their lives they learned that affection produces compliance. That’s why so many survivors of Narcissistic abuse report they were love-bombed at the outset of their relationship. Heaping on affection is a quick way to secure cooperation. Without even understanding the neuroscience of attachment, they establish allegiance and loyalty by stimulating the inner workings of their target’s brain. Creating dopamine and neuropeptide surges produces a reaction similar to addiction to drugs or alcohol. The victim’s brain will bond, but the Narcissist will only pretend to do so.
Narcissists are capable of maintaining their pretense of bonding as long as their victim is useful to them. After a time, their victim can begin to feel like they’re “walking on eggshells” around them. Engaging with Narcissists can glue people into sexual relationships, business agreements, property sharing, produce families, and a host of other toxic ties.
But aren’t there laws to protect us?
As children, parents provide boundaries that control behaviors in the home. As adults, society’s laws are the source of control that the public relies on. And we count on our elected legislators to establish laws to protect us. When it comes to sexual contact, and other interpersonal relations, our laws are failing us.
Even though our laws say that consent is needed, Narcissists frequently violate consent. That’s because our laws tell us how to convey consent, but not what consent actually means. When a Narcissist fails to secure consent to engage in sexual contact, instead of seducing their target, they’re sexually assaulting them. But our laws fail to say so.
No laws are perfect; including the laws against murder. In 2021, Arkansas’s arrest rate was 61% for reported murder cases. Yet in Fort Smith, Arkansas, only two arrests were made for ninety-two reported rape cases. Just like every state across the US, Arkansas fails to define what consent actually is. This oversight enables the myth that a woman’s manner of dress or prior sexual conduct give tacit consent to the offender.
The Consent Awareness Network (CAN) recently worked with legislators in Arkansas to pass House Bill #1141 to define the noun, consent, in Arkansas’s penal code. The House Judiciary Committee for the state, headed by Representative Carol Dalby, with opposition led by Representative Jimmy Gazaway, voted down the bill.
What does neuroscience tell us about consent?
Your reproductive organs provide the greatest opportunity for a Narcissist to control you. Neuroscience has shown that your brain’s mixture of structures and systems were designed to preserve our species and provide the glue to keep families intact – even during severe turmoil.
To a Narcissist, violating your reproductive organs establishes dominance over you and etches their permanence in your brain. When engaging you sexually, by coercive control or any other malicious means, you become their conquest. Their conduct puts a stamp on your psyche.
For centuries, soldiers have raped men, women, and children during warfare to unravel their societies and diminish resistance to their invasion. This practice continues in modern-day warfare and is used as a weapon of control in on-on-one relationships and in high-control groups, even during peacetime.
The brave #MeToo Silence Breakers who stepped forward in high profile cases faced intense castigation and ridicule. In Bill Cosby’s case, when jurors began to deliberate, they asked Judge Steven O’Neill for the definition for “consent.” O’Neill told them “That’s a question that cannot be answered,” and instructed them to use their common sense.
Only because the foreperson for that jury was a cyber security expert familiar with the 2018 definition for consent in General Data Protection Regulation, (GDPR), an international law enacted by the European Union to protect data on the internet, were the jurors able to reach a guilty verdict. GDPR’s consent concept is consistent with the definition you will find in my TEDx Talk and my works since 2009: “Consent is a freely given, knowledgeable and informed agreement, by a person with the capacity to reason, #FGKIA.”
Without this clear definition for consent codified by law, victim-blaming cross-examinations by defense attorneys is common. To change this toxic narrative, we must turn our important human right of consent into a powerful civil right backed by law.
Why are we blaming victims?
For generations, society’s laws recognized only violent sexual assaults as criminal conduct, and this concept is still at the heart of our penal laws. This draconian thinking fails to acknowledge that your reproductive organs can be violated in violent and non-violent ways. Particularly in relationships with Narcissists, victims often comply with their demands due to fear of reprisal.
Many victims are deceived into sexual conduct by fraudulent foundational facts. For example, Larry Nassar will spend his lifetime in jail due to his deception, in which he told patients that his sexual conduct was a medically necessary procedure. Rarely, however, are cases of sexual assault by coercion or fraud prosecuted. And most cases that are prosecuted are against high profile offenders by large quantities of victims. What hope does a solitary victim who has had their sense of self-worth striped away by a sexual predator do to secure justice?
In addition, modern neuro science has discovered that victims of terror can act in many different ways. For centuries, penal law has dictated that the victim must attempt to fight with all their might or flee in order to prosecute a sex crime. Today, neuro science tells us that more often, a victim will either freeze or “fawn” to minimize brutality. Fawning is the act of going along in order to get along by a terrorized victim.
I was quoted in Jen Percy’s August 22, 2023 NY Times article on “tonic immobility” a temporary physical paralysis that overcomes a terrorized victim. I had written an article back in 2014 about this common reaction and Jessica Mann, one of Harvey Weinstein’s victims addressed how tonic immobility had immobilized her during Weinstein’s assault.
Penal laws are blind to modern neuroscience discoveries. Instead, they blame and shame victims for how they act when they are being assaulted. Our laws state that consent is determined by the victim’s “words and actions,” not by the malicious influence that created those reactions. Victims who fawn or freeze are not complying out of free will. Society needs to recognize this distortion and demand that our laws catch up with the science of victim behavior.
Instead, recent myths have surfaced that embed victim blaming more deeply into our justice system. Recent changes in law state either that the victim should say “No” and “No” means no. Or they say that “Yes” means yes. What about victims who are too terrified to say “no” and freeze? What about victims who say “yes” because they fear reprisal if they say “no,” or if they are tricked into saying “yes.”
How can we establish needed change?
CAN is fighting to do exactly that!
By turning our important human right of consent into a powerful civil right backed by law, we will eliminate the shaming and blaming toxicity that victims face. Prosecution of offenders will rely on the influence they used to secure compliance, and not what the victim wore or whether the victim had previous sexual relations with them. In fact, that information, as well as the victim’s conduct after the fact, will have no bearing on the case and become inadmissible in a courtroom.
CAN needs your help to create this change.
Here are important steps you can take:
- We are about to enter a new election cycle in the US. We need our legislators to enact the laws that will protect us. Only vote for legislators who pledge to do so. Ask them openly, publicly, and on social media, “Will you #CodifyConsent if elected?”
- Become a “Consent Crusader.” Roll up your sleeves to help get consent laws codified in your location. Reach out to CAN at Info@consentAwareness.net to hear more about what you can do.
- To secure more information about consent and the issues surrounding sex crimes watch my TEDx Talk, “When YES Means NO – The Truth about Consent” or read my latest book, “Your Consent – The Key to Conquering Sexual Assault- Revised Edition.”
This is Joyce’s first submission to NAS and we thank her for such a timely topic! Data shows that over half of women and almost 1 in 3 men have experienced sexual violence involving physical contact during their lifetimes. One in 4 women and about 1 in 26 men have experienced completed or attempted rape. This needs to stop! Thank you, Joyce, for dedicating your life to such an important subject.
Joyce Short is leading the way to define consent in both society’s awareness and the laws that protect against sexual assault. She is the Founder of the Consent Awareness Network (CAN), whose mission is to turn our human right of CONSENT into a civil right backed by law. She is the architect of consent bills in New York, Arkansas, and a federal amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act. In addition, she is the author of Your Consent- The Key to Conquering Sexual Assault, (both the original and revised editions,) a TEDx Talk Presenter: When YES Means NO, the Truth about Consent, a “Woman of Distinction” Honoree by the New York State Assembly, and a three-time sexual assault survivor. She’s been featured on Nightline, BuzzFeed, Inside Edition, CBS Evening News, The NY Times, VICE, and more. Learn more about Joyce at www.ConsentAwareness.net.