The Line, a film by Nancy Schwartzman

Last night at the University of Northern Colorado, I attended a screening of The Line,a film by Nancy Schwartzman about rape and the line of consensual versus nonconsensual sex.  In it, she tells the story of her rape several years ago by a man she had gone to bed with–a fact that attorneys and anti-rape advocates explain would have made her case very difficult, if not impossible, to prosecute.  She had engaged in consensual sex–but she did not consent to anal rape, and she cried and screamed throughout the attack.  The climax of the film is an interview with her rapist recorded via a hidden camera–his face is obscured, but it’s fascinating to watch him squirm and writhe and desperately trying to convince her that everything that happened that night was consensual, and that they had “hot sex.”

The part of the film I found most disturbing was when Schwartzman told her friends what happened–and her friends told her that it happens to everyone.  What else did she expect?  That’s just the way it is, and she really should get over it because that’s how it happens sometimes.  After all, she consented to some sex acts.  In other words, they told her that rape is clearly on the continuum of how heterosexuality operates.  They read her actions as complicit with the rapist–whereas there was never any ambiguity for Schwartzman.  As she related in the Q and A session after the movie, she cried and screamed and repeatedly begged the rapist to stop during the rape, and then went home and wrote in her journal “I was raped last night.”  When even her friends told her that what had happened to her wasn’t rape, she bottled it up and tried to forget it.

I’ve got a new lecture on rape as a tool for social control in early America that I’ve added to my classes recently.  Last spring, when I gave the lecture for the first time, I was extremely disappointed (although sadly, not surprised) that the first comment on it was from a woman student who told us about how a friend of hers falsely accused a man of rape.  Another woman student agreed–yes, apparently, the biggest problem with rape among college women today in their view is that so many men were falsely accused.  It was as though in a class of both men and women students, these women were eager to reassure the men that of course she didn’t think they were rapists.  (As though my lecture were an accusation?)  Like slavery and coverture, my students last spring were desperate to convince themselves that rape is in fact a crime so terrible that it never, ever happens any more.  (As we discussed a few weeks ago, postfeminist ideology means that there are no victims any more.)

The response of the students at UNC last night to Schwartzman’s movie was quite different–they were fully absorbed by her story, and asked very smart questions.  Schwartzman completed a final cut of the movie last year, and has taken her show on the road this academic year–if you’re interested in inviting her to campus or in purchasing the movie for your students, you can find more information here.  She also has a blog to help publicize her campaign to encourage young people to think about sexuality, desire, and consent at

0 thoughts on “The Line, a film by Nancy Schwartzman

  1. I guess one of the basic texts here is Antioch College’s much-derided and caricatured sexual consent policy of the (early?) 1990s, which required “active and continuous” –and specifically *verbal*–consent at every stage of every episode of sexual activity. Antioch is in a kind of institutional state of suspended animation at the moment, but versions of its policy may be in effect at some other institutions. The questions that it raises are also (somewhat) reminiscent of the legal and cultural contretemps back in the (mid?) 1970s over whether there was or could be any such thing as “marital rape” under American law. The law concluded that there could be and was such a thing. I don’t know where the law went with it after that. I seem to remember that it was an Ohio case that raised this question, but maybe not. Did either of these issues come up in the film (the clip of which is “still loading” on my machine)?


  2. The law concluded that there could be and was such a thing. I don’t know where the law went with it after that. I seem to remember that it was an Ohio case that raised this question, but maybe not.

    Each state has its own rape laws. So whether a married woman can be raped by her husband is a question that each state law addresses separate from other states. Surveys have been done of state laws, I’m sure you could google something that would tell you the current state of law in all 50 states.


  3. “her friends told her that it happens to everyone. What else did she expect? That’s just the way it is, and she really should get over it because that’s how it happens sometimes. After all, she consented to some sex acts. In other words, they told her that rape is clearly on the continuum of how heterosexuality operates.”

    Leaving out the “she really should get over it” part, in my view this is the simple truth. It happens to virtually everyone, and it is clearly on the continuum of how heterosexuality operates.

    That’s why the battles are so hard to win.


  4. I agree with snow black. Generally, coercion is “on the continuum of how” behavior “operates”. It doesn’t follow, obviously, that the concept of coercion is meaningless, or that it’s useless to work toward clear criteria for what kinds of behavior are unacceptable.

    I remember vividly reading about Oregon v. Rideout as it wound its way through the courts. Obviously its work is not done.


  5. Hi! Thanks for posting Historiann, and for creating the discussion. I’m the filmmaker and subject of the film.

    I love the Antioch example, and was going to use it in the film, but chose instead to film at the Bunny Ranch – where sex workers operating in a legal brothel negotiate consent every step of the way – with money. The Antioch example was so ridiculed in public media, yet, men pay thousands of dollars to enact the same rituals in brothel.

    I also want to pipe in that the work happening on the ground with the film, and on the group blog show that many men are as dismayed, confused, and upset by the “norm” and also the low expectations we in society have placed on them. The more we can amplify their voices and model the example that men do give a shit, the more we can make that normative male behavior.

    We need to raise the bar – and highlight our collective stake in better sex, better relationships, enthusiastic consent. This means we hold perpetrators accountable as individuals, making conscious choices, and we hold the instiutions accountable when they collude with the behavior.

    Lots of work to keep doing. Often frustrating, more often rewarding.


  6. Nancy–thanks for stopping by in the comments. I’m glad you find your work rewarding. It seems like the audience you had last night was really open to what you were saying, and men and women alike got in line to have you photograph their answer on the “what is your line?” sticker. That was good for me to see, given the perpetuation of rape culture and victim-blaming I’ve seen among some of my students (and women especially.)

    I never understood all of the ridicule that Antioch policy got in the popular media at the time (early 1990s?) So, the alternative to loving consent is. . . non-loving non-consent, and that’s supposed to be OK with everyone?

    BTW, I liked the scenes with the women at the Bunny Ranch. I liked how your movie treated prostitutes as people who might have something to teach us, rather than as the butt of a joke, or the object of exploitation or shaming. Very smart, and very feminist of you!


  7. Thanks for a very interesting post! I’m very excited to learn about the film, and hope to see it sometime soon.

    I struggle a lot in conversations about sexual violence/assault with the spectre of the “woman who falsely accused a man of rape.” Especially when I’m talking with someone who is very progressive, mostly feminist, etc., I don’t know quite how to explain my conviction that that is (at the very least) really a much less significant trend in our culture than the rape culture itself. The 1 in 6 statistic is what often calls up the response that many women are probably lying about rape, and that the real story is (fill in the blanks). I have to assume that the person I’m speaking with just doesn’t want to acknowledge that sexual violence is more common than they’d like it to be.

    But how does one discuss and deconstruct that (mythical?) false accuser in a conversation?

    Sorry for rambling, and I hope I haven’t taken this comment too OT.


  8. Sadly, what her friends told her does happen a lot. It happens, yes, and people get over it, BUT … that is not the point. The point is, it should not happen and if/when it happens, should be prosecutable.

    Your classroom experience reminds me of a different one I had. The subject of rape came up in one of my classrooms, in which there were 34 women and ONE male. To my shock, one student after the other … some heart-breakingly young, others middle aged … started telling of their experiences with rape: Date rape, rape by stranger, rape while passed out drunk and so on and so forth. It was like a catharsis.

    My one male student just kept sliding lower and lower in his seat and pulled his cap over his eyes as much as he could. Eventually he wrote in a paper that he had never before understood why women considered rape such a big deal, but that day, listening to his friends and peers tell of their terrible experiences, led him to understand not only how common it is, but how painful. He felt guilty by association for having frat brother friends who had bragged about “doing” passed-out girls. He said he even felt guilty just for being male! After that day in class, he had spent sleepless nights thinking about it and wondered if there was anything he could do. I told him there was much he could do!

    So in that sense it was good, I guess, but sadly, only ONE male in the classroom to be so enlightened. I wonder, after reading your post, if there had been more males, if the women would have felt empowered or confident enough or if they would just have kept silent or worse, tried to take the other side.


  9. “Happens to everyone” “Get over it”


    Unbelievable. Is that for real?

    Anyway, I wanted to mention some statistics. The one in six statistic refers to the general population. In poor communities it’s closer to one in three. That gets close to “everyone,” so I’m not sure why I’m so boggled by the “friends'” statements.

    I don’t remember offhand what the statistics are on false accusations, although I do remember seeing that once. (Literally, once. It’s not studied a whole hell of a lot.) What I remember is that the number wasn’t even a blip compared to the number of victims. One percent (or even less?) of all accusations. I don’t remember whether the study concerned legal cases, which is a tiny subset of rapes, or data from counseling centers, which is still a small subset. I believe it was the latter.

    So, anyway, this is all a longwinded way of saying what’s already been said. Based on the evidence, worrying about false accusations is denial.


  10. I never understood all of the ridicule that Antioch policy got in the popular media at the time (early 1990s?) So, the alternative to loving consent is. . . non-loving non-consent, and that’s supposed to be OK with everyone?

    My recollection is that the ridicule was based on the (bogus) idea that using spoken language to negotiate consent is, like, totally a turn off, man. In other words, it is a threat to rape culture.


  11. This post reminds me…

    When I was in my criminal law course in law school, I remember feeling very surprised and sickened by the fact that in my state, once a woman consented to sex with a man, she could not at any point rescind her consent during the course of the sex act. If she changed her mind during sex and told the man to stop, it would not be considered rape if he continued “having sex” with her anyway.

    Apparently, once a woman consents to sex, a man is entitled to at least one orgasm.


  12. Yes, you are absolutely right @Quixote that the Rape Myth that women falsely accuse is utter bullshit. I think 1% is the statistic, similar to that of people falsely reporting kidnapping. We have helpful resources on our site for how to call people out.

    I’d also like to say that “rape culture” is also shame culture. We are told to be ashamed of our bodies and desires, that young people think “asking” or “talking” will ruin the mood, and that even admitting you want sex is bad and dirty. We can track this unhealthy relationships to the concept of “Original Sin” and all the way to the abstinence-only movement. If women speak up and express themselves they are humiliated for being sluts or wanting it too much, and if they remain passive they become fair game. Young people drink to give themselves permission to act on their desires, and this only clouds the communication.

    Thanks @Historiann re: Bunny Ranch. They were so wise and straightforward, I knew that they’d be able to discuss power and boundaries better than most!
    I’ve challenged students to try something radical and kinky: having sex sober and with the lights on. Especially for those who are bringing BDSM into their sex lives, but absolutely not following the clear cut, safe-word, negotiated consent rules, which is terrifying to consider.

    And ugh @Fannie, that is horrifying. Has the law changed yet in your state? I wonder how it holds up against the Violence Against Women Act?


  13. Nancy- First off, thank you for your film.

    Secondly, I’m not a criminal lawyer, but the problem with the rape law isn’t so much what the “black letter law” says, but due to how judges/juries interpret “consent.” Namely, they aren’t willing to convict a man for rape when a woman initially consents to sex but later changes her mind. Rather than being a problem with how the statute is written, it’s a common law (ie- interpretation of the law) issue.

    For one example of this see:


  14. Rather than being a problem with how the statute is written, it’s a common law (ie- interpretation of the law) issue.

    Just FYI, if you are interested, your use of “common law” is inaccurate. Common law and statutory law are different bodies of law and there is no common law applied in rape prosecutions. Nor is it necessarily an interpretation of the law issue.

    Whether there is an absence of consent in a case of alleged rape is a question of fact which the jury must determine by weighing all the evidence presented. Which means that if a jury thinks something indicates consent, and we think it doesn’t, the issue seems to be one of social belief, not law or application of the law.

    If the law were changed to define consent in such a way that harmful social beliefs must be set aside in making a determination of fact that might be helpful. For example, the law might be rewritten to state that consent can be withdrawn at any time. Or that consent to one sexual act does not mean consent to a subsequent sexual act. Or that consent must be positively indicated, not assumed. Or that an accused rapist must prove consent as an affirmative defense rather than that the prosecutor must prove absence of consent as an element of the crime.


  15. When I was in my criminal law course in law school, I remember feeling very surprised and sickened by the fact that in my state, once a woman consented to sex with a man, she could not at any point rescind her consent during the course of the sex act. If she changed her mind during sex and told the man to stop, it would not be considered rape if he continued “having sex” with her anyway.

    If you’re not in MD, it’s probably much like the MD case: the problem in that case is “sexual intercourse” is defined solely as penetration. Thus, once you’ve consented to pentration, and that penetration has occurred, there is no rape because penetration is the only relevant act.

    Probably the most relevant part of that 2006 MD opinion is its quote from another source:

    Given the fact that consent must precede penetration, it follows in our view that although a woman may have consented to a sexual encounter, even to intercourse, if that consent is withdrawn prior to the act of penetration, then it cannot be said that she has consented to sexual intercourse. On the other hand, ordinarily if she consents prior to penetration and withdraws the consent following penetration, there is no rape.

    This is the hook on which the MD opinion, referenced by fannie, hangs its conclusion. I think this is wrong and, in fact, so does Maryland’s highest Court which overturned the earlier court in 2008.

    “The crime of first-degree rape includes post-penetration vaginal intercourse accomplished through force or threat of force and without the consent of the victim, even if the victim consented to the initial penetration,” the Court of Appeals wrote.

    Judges wrote that current courts should not rely on 200-year-old legal standards that “initial penetration completes the act of intercourse.”

    “Post-penetration withdrawal of consent negates initial consent for the purposes of sexual offense crimes and, when coupled with the other elements, may constitute the crime of rape,” the court concluded.


  16. And, to harp on the MD case a bit more, I do think it involves the interpretation issue of whether or not “consent” means the right to withdraw that consent during the sex act.

    Specifically, the MD appellate court noted that, under English common law, it was the initial “deflowering” of a woman that constituted the harm to the man who effectively owned the woman/victim, and so any “further injury was considered to be less consequential. The damage was done.” That is, consent under English common law meant that once a woman consented to sex with a man, she was legally incapable of withdrawing that consent during the sex act. As if that’s not draconian enough, the MD court went on to accept this, saying, “Maryland adheres to this tenet, having adopted this common law, which remains the law of the land…”



  17. I think you’re a bit off in your interpretation of the lower court opinion. Rather, the opinion turned on the definition of rape – penetration – and its interaction with consent. It didn’t really have anything to do with consent to “sex” or “sexual intercourse” or “the sex act”. It’s either rape or consensual at the moment of penetration. Everything after that was inconsequential to the law of rape as applied by the lower court.

    You’re correct, the lower court did (impermissibly) look to common law to interpret/apply Md’s rape statute.

    At the end of the day, though, Maryland’s highest court overturned the lower court and remanded for a new trial with the jury instruction that consent could be withdrawn during intercourse. So, that’s what the law in Md is. I think it’s a good idea to draw attention not just to the outrages, but to when those outrages have been fixed.


  18. Actually, I disagree that my interpretation is “off.” I was referring to the appellate opinion, wherein one of the issues was whether the trial court erred in its jury instruction that it should return a verdict of guilty for rape if it was persuaded that the witness consented to sex but withdrew her consent after penetration. I see that as another way of asking whether “consent” involves the right to withdraw that consent during sex after penetration.

    Anyway, I can see that this conversation is becoming unnecessarily argumentative. My impression is that we’re talking in circles, perhaps saying the same thing in different ways, due to my own miscommunication or mutual misunderstanding, so I’m going to step away so as not to further derail this post. Thanks.


  19. I’m so glad this movie was made. I probably wont see it since this post on it was trigger-y for me, but I’m so glad its out there.

    Less than 1% of reported rapes are false accusations. Usually statistics used that have the percentage higher than 2% ignore that

    – that “false” can be based on the cops’ opinions of the situation/who the victim was and what she was doing at the time of the rape
    – withdrawals of a reported rape (because of fear, shame, coercion, scare tactics, etc) can count as a “false accusation”
    – the methodology used to collect the data is usually way off (from not counting all the reported rapes that are turned aside immediately to what is being used to decide if it is false to using polygraphs to using a certain subset of victims to…well, etc for sure)
    – that certain rapes are still treated as if they are not rape
    – that society treats rape victims as inherently suspect and rapists as good, moral, probably innocent people
    – if you’re interested abyss2hope has a lot of information about this

    I think we get the idea that there are so many false accusations of rape because on TV shows and movies there are a lot of false accusations at a much higher statistic than in reality.

    Added to that, news media report almost every instance of false accusations but do not come even close to talking about the amount of rapes that happen. If we just listened to the news media, a lot of men are being falsely accused and every once in awhile a person in authority (Church, doctors, etc) commits rape, which is a totally isolated case each time.

    The media presentation of false rapes is so much higher than the reality of false rapes. The media perpetrates myths about rape, and this is one facet of that.


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  21. i considered attending antioch college, but not only were their dorms coed, their locker room style showers were too– that is, several shower heads in the same room, no curtains. it never occurred to me to ask if there were other dorm options (and i think it strange that this was the dorm i was given to stay in, as a high school student visiting a school!) BUT in all other situations in my life, when i’ve found myself in a shower with someone else, there has been a series of events leading up to that encounter, and an understanding of consent based on those prior events. on a campus where men and women who may not even have exchanged first names, find themselves naked in a shower, to the same extent that they might find themselves sitting next to each other in class, or in line at the cafeteria, such a protocol for determining consent may not seem so out of place.

    i would find the request for consent at each move, tedious and uninspiring and i would hope that women would have other ways of establishing their boundaries (starting with doors or at least curtains on shower stalls!!!)

    i do think the dialogue on gender, the rights of women, the autonomy of our bodies has declined tremendously and that we have to revive the dialogue on women’s rights all over again.

    the displays in lenscrafters for men reads: it’s a man’s world. for women: “a woman’s charm”

    in a world where we are expected to charm to make our way in a man’s world, how can we expected to also adequately have the social capital to even begin to consent? in what context? with what power?

    we also have to reestablish the sisterhood, so that women have each others’ back. undermining consent and dismissing rape should be unthinkable and should come with social consequences of their own.


  22. Hi there! Sorry, I took a weekend off, and look what I missed… alas!

    @Ohands thanks for checking in, and for providing great resources for false statistics. We always collude with the abuser, whether he/she be a bully, stalker or a rapist. Are you “abyss2hope”? Bc I met you at WAM!2009 briefly and follow you on twitter, I’m @thelinecampaign.

    @Emma, I completely agree – this dialogue needs to continue harder, fiercer and stronger than ever before. Not only are we reminded of this “man’s world” (sad and funny that it went from a James Brown song to a LensCrafters commercial) but the whole notion of sisterhood is trashed in pretty much every show marketed to tweens and young women.

    However, Lenscrafters is clinging to nostalgic vestiges of the past – according to the NYTimes recent (ridiculous) article “The New Math” women are far surpassing their male peers in higher education, etc. NYT misses the boat and decides to focus on how sad and sorry it is that women are fighting over men in college, and my intern Carmen wrote a great counter post here, check it out:

    Charm, sure, brains, hard work and achievement, you’re damn sure. The more I can get my film out, the more those potential jury members sitting in the audience get a better education about consent and survivor experience. The more we choose to watch and create media that while entertaining, sexy, compelling is also egalitarian and respectful – the more we can continue to change the tide.

    Please do visit the site, sign up for our RSS feed and contribute your thoughts. We discuss consent, boundaries and corporate media bullsh*t alot!


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