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Incite Magazine By Courtney Hamilton

In a March 10 podcast titled “Erection Quest,” celebrated graffiti artist David Choe—known for his work with Vice, Facebook, HBO and even the White House—described in elaborate detail his “rapey” behavior toward a masseuse. The podcast, part of a regular series co-hosted by porn actress Asa Akira, was largely overlooked until xoJane writer Melissa Stetten brought it to the public’s attention.

In the podcast, Choe explains how he forced his masseuse, whom he calls “Rose,” to jerk him off and provide him oral sex—arguing that her lack of aggressive resistance and her apparent attraction to him was substitutable for consent. A transcription of what is said in the podcast can be found in Stetten’s xoJane piece linked above. The conversation itself begins around the 1:13 mark in the podcast.

After the backlash following the publishing of Stetten’s article, Choe issued a statement on the podcast website, decrying the rape accusations, claiming that the podcast was not fact and rather an extension of his art.

Most media coverage of the controversy has focused on whether or not the incident actually occurred, or whether Choe’s remarks are excusable under the guise of art. These debates, while they provoke worthwhile discourses, are (inexplicably) not addressing what lies at the heart of this controversy: rape culture. The effort Choe and his cohorts put into making a distinction between “rapey” behavior and actual rape are symptomatic of the ways our culture attempts to normalize and tolerate sexual assault and rape.

Sex is complex. Consent is not. The ambiguity of pseudonymous Rose’s interest in or attraction to Choe does not negate the absence of consent in this alleged interaction. The multiple refusals Rose makes in the interaction and Choe’s failure to listen to these refusals is the very definition of rape. He argues that had her refusal been more spirited, had she screamed “fucking stop I’m gonna go call security,” then “that would have been a much different story.”

Sadly, Choe’s story, fact or fiction, points to very real cultural misconceptions about rape. The narrative of rape being perpetrated by a violent aggressor lurking in the shadows—with the rape victim combatively resisting the attack—accounts for a minority of actual rapes. More often, rape occurs in situations where one person takes advantage of the comfort ascribed to them by another, as seen in Choe’s story. His story adopts a victim-blaming attitude, claiming that Rose needed to make more of a scene and fight back for his actions to constitute rape.

The show is celebrated for frank discussion of sex; the press release for the show claims, “Choe’s story telling mixed with the brutal honesty of the two hosts liberates listeners to examine life, sexuality and culture from alternative and candid perspectives.” Yet, when Akira insists that Choe is a rapist, he and the show’s guests dance around the definition of rape. While Choe is comfortable with discussing sex in graphic detail, literal consent unnerves him. Instead, he insists “she said yes with her eyes” and that should be sufficient.

In a 2002 study on repeat rape by undetected rapists, scholars David Lisak and Paul M. Miller found that out of 1,882 men assessed for sexual assault behaviors, 120 “men whose self-reported acts met legal definitions of rape or attempted rape, but who were never prosecuted by criminal justice authorities” were responsible for an average of 5.8 rapes each. Their findings suggest that while a relatively small selection of men reported sexually assaulting others, this selection was prone to repeat the crime.

What is most interesting about the study, however, is that Lisak and Miller never used the word “rape” in the questionnaires they asked each subject to fill out. Instead, they asked questions that fit legal definitions of rape and sexual assault, but avoided using the actual word “rape.”

The study suggests that rapists will admit to behaviors that constitute rape, so long as the stigmatized term “rape” is never used in the assessment. Similarly, Choe will admit to “rapey” behavior, but maintains that he is certainly not a rapist.

While it’s easy to dismiss Choe as a tactless asshole, the ideas he perpetuates in this incident have very real consequences in our daily reality. Salon recently reported on a Marquette University study which found that many young people deemed sexual assault a normal part of their reality, proving how urgent the need is to combat rape culture.

So, whether or not Choe’s story is true, and whether or not it can be considered art, the consequences of talking about rape like a douche transcend a scandal. His story both demonstrates the pervasiveness of rape culture, and provides fuel for its fire.