Trevor Bauer and the Problem of Consent

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Many baseball fans have been alarmed, if not disgusted, by recent news regarding Los Angeles Dodgers star pitcher Trevor Bauer, who is under investigation for allegations of sexual assault. According to the accuser, Bauer physically and sexually assaulted her on two separate occasions, including while she was unconscious. As troubling as such a story is for both the Dodgers (currently in a playoff run) and Major League Baseball (which has had its fair share of misconduct), this most recent controversy is about far more than Trevor Bauer and baseball.

Due to the graphic nature of the allegations against the former Cy Young Award winner, I’ll refrain from getting into specifics, except to note that the woman, Lindsey Hill, agreed to at least some of it. Later hospital records show that among her injuries were bruises on her face, including a split swollen lip, a purple welt behind her ear, and black bruises under her eyes.

A judge on 19 August denied a restraining order Hill had requested against Bauer, stating that the woman had failed to make her boundaries sufficiently clear during originally consensual sex. Bauer has been on temporary paid administrative leave from the Los Angeles Dodgers since 2 July and will continue to be through at least 10 September. Results from the Pasadena Police and MLB investigations of Bauer are still pending.

Whether or not Bauer is found guilty of sexual assault, this entire episode is bizarre. One of the most well-known and successful pitchers in the MLB appears to like sexual activities most Little League mothers would blush (or vomit) at. Separately, an Ohio woman has alleged that Bauer, several years ago, sent her a Snapchat message in which he allegedly noted that he had enjoyed doing a number of sexual acts that are also too obscene to be written here. 

But it’s not just Bauer’s alleged sexual history that’s staggering. Hill, a self-described alcoholic who says she is now sober, claimed that she encouraged rough sex with Bauer because she blamed herself after a first encounter that left her unconscious. “I just wanted to create another experience where I could live up to what he wanted,” she testified. Bauer’s lawyers cited messages Hill sent to the pitcher telling him that she was “turned on” by some of his actions.

I have no interest in trying to adjudicate this terrible affair, which is so confusing and strange—many of the alleged texts between the two could be read as dark humor or sarcasm—that it’s doubtful anyone will know what exactly happened between Bauer and Hill. But what is worth considering are the broader social trends that have brought America to a point where people regularly engage in such behavior and must navigate such conundrums. This is true even for judges, like the one cited above who acknowledged that though evidence of Hill’s injuries was “terrible,” Hill’s failure to set boundaries made determining if consent was violated near impossible.

That’s the first problem: consent. As the #MeToo movement so concretely demonstrated, consent can be quite difficult to determine, especially when sexual encounters are as casual, random, and freakish as those that apparently took place between Bauer and Hill. Thus, we now have risibly proceduralist guidelines that help us work through consent, including the use of “safe words,” and “periodically checking in with your partner.” What evades the experts of our sexually-liberated age is the possibility that it is the very absurdity of “casual sex”—an oxymoron, given the vulnerabilities inherent in the act—between so-called “consenting adults” that undermines human sexuality. It does this by understanding it in consumerist and transactional terms, rather than in terms of self-gift, covenantal love, and the potential for the creation of new life. 

Consumerism and transactionalism point to the second problem: pornography. I don’t know whether Bauer has consumed much pornography, but I do know that porn is, by its very nature, a commodification of the human person and his or her sexuality. And I know that porn encourages us to view sex (wrongly) as a predominantly physical act done for sensual pleasure with no concomitant commitments or transcendent purpose, perhaps like enjoying a nice dinner or watching a movie. (Is one’s consent ever violated during such activities?) And I know that a lot of porn is exploitative and violent in ways that are similar to what the pitcher is accused of doing. 

Whether or not pornography is a direct cause of Bauer’s behavior, it is certainly an indirect cause. So, too, is the normalization of more extreme, violent forms of sex through such crazes as Fifty Shades of Grey, a story that includes a girl whose sexual partner asks her to sign a non-disclosure agreement (there’s the transactionalism again!). As I wrote in a piece for The Federalist, the billion-dollar pornography industry commodifies, trafficks, exploits, and abuses thousands of women. Millions of men, in turn, are emasculated by porn addiction. 

America is very confused about sex. We are confused about who should be doing it, in what contexts, and with what limits. Until a few generations ago, the majority of a religiously-informed citizenry could answer those questions pretty straightforwardly: married persons should be doing it, in private, and a person communicating “no” either verbally or physically meant, well, “no.” And few Americans even knew that extreme, violent forms of sex existed—or if they did, they viewed them as a manifestation of criminality and degeneracy rather than personal taste.

But more than half a century of attacking the institution of marriage, normalizing pornography, and promoting sexual liberation even for our nation’s children has sowed its rotten fruits. Whether or not Trevor Bauer is guilty of sexual assault, his behavior is emblematic of a far greater socio-cultural problem in America. Like so many examples before him, his case is a canary in the coal mine for a nation whose reckless experimentation with sex is resulting in societal suicide. But if even a battered women doesn’t change our minds about casual sex, consent, and porn, I’m not sure what will.

[Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons]

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Casey Chalk is a senior contributor at The Federalist. He holds a Masters in Theology from Christendom College.

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