Aziz Ansari Allegations Stir Questions About Sexual Conduct, Consent

Actor Aziz Ansari was accused of sexual misconduct earlier this month. Unlike other public disclosures of high-profile men behaving badly, the article outing Ansari has drawn mixed reactions.

The story, published on Jan. 13 by, draws on the accounts of a 23-year-old photographer they refer to as “Grace” (a pseudonym used to protect her identity) who went on a date with Ansari after meeting him at the 2017 Emmy Awards.

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Grace describes an uncomfortable encounter with Ansari in his apartment, during which she engaged in sexual activity but also spurned Ansari’s advances with verbal and nonverbal cues.

The night after the date, Grace texted Ansari to express her discomfort with the encounter, to which Ansari apologized, saying he “misread things in the moment.”

Ansari responded to the article the day after it was published by saying the sexual activity was “by all indications … completely consensual.”

Some have responded to the article – through op-eds, blog posts and social media –by saying it merely described a bad date, while others have characterized Ansari’s behavior as sexual assault.

In the era of the #MeToo movement, is there a gray area relating to sexual conduct and consent?

“My reading of the account is the woman expressed her lack of consent in multiple ways and Ansari ignored both verbal and non-verbal messages that she did not want to have sex with him,” said Sheerine Alemzadeh, co-founder of Healing to Action, a nonprofit that advocates against gender violence in the workplace. “As an attorney who’s litigated many sexual assault cases, I recognize the circumstances of this case may not be legally actionable, but am troubled by the backlash to the story as it displays many rape culture stereotypes and myths about what women should expect and how they should behave in sexual situations. I think this is an important conversation for the #MeToo movement to have if it truly wants to break down a culture of entitlement and aggression that enables sexual violence.”

“There is a difference between Louis C.K. and Ansari,” said Dan Proft, radio talk show host of the Answer on WIND-AM 560. “There is a difference between Weinstein or Spacey and Louis C.K. There is a difference between a crude remark and an illegal touching. There is a difference between flirting and menacing. These distinctions seem to be getting blurred to the point where we’re getting into the province of thought crimes and weaponizing after-the-fact recriminations.”

“When we, as a culture, refuse to engage in meaningful and open-hearted conversations about love, sex, power, and intimacy, we create the conditions for the kinds of toxic and painful experiences described by ‘Grace,’” said Alexandra Solomon, a clinical psychologist at Northwestern University’s Family Institute. “We are in the middle of a really important moment when we are addressing a number of aspects of our broken sexual culture. We do not need to equate Aziz Ansari with Harvey Weinstein in order to have much needed conversations about sex.” 

Alemzadeh, Solomon and Proft join us to offer their perspectives.

Related stories:

Inside a Culture of Harassment at Chicago Ford Plants

Jan. 4: “It’s a struggle every day,” a current Ford employee says. As Chicago Ford plants once again grapple with accusations of sexual harassment, we speak with two women about what it’s like to work there.

Preventing Sexual Harassment: What Companies Can Do

Dec. 18: The “me too” campaign has ushered in a flood of allegations against prominent men. But whose job is it to make sure that rank-and-file workers are protected against sexual harassment?

How Men Misunderstand Sexual Consent

Dec. 12: A new study looks at how young men view sexual interactions – and finds that some have difficulty understanding whether a woman is giving consent to have sex.

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