Mimesis Law
27 January 2022

When Did Twerking Become A Crime?

Nov. 13, 2015 (Mimesis Law) — When Washington, DC police arrested Ayanna Marie Knight of Las Vegas for third-degree sexual assault after she and a friend were caught on surveillance footage twerking and groping an unsuspecting stranger, headlines like Woman Arrested For Unwanted Twerking: When twerking goes wrong” and “Woman Arrested In Twerking-Related Sex Assault” were inevitable. The Washington Post seemed to take the high road with an article entitled “Police: Woman in videotaped sex incident arrested near Thomas Circle.” It describes the facts as follows:

The video shows two women near the store’s checkout counter making advances and dancing in a sexually suggestive manner in front of the man, who pushes them away and tries to avoid their advances.

According to the affidavit, the man told police that he asked the clerk to call 911 but that his request was refused.

The man told police that he finished pumping his gas and drove through a carwash. He said the women waited for him as he drove out “and catcalled” to him. He called 911 from inside the carwash and then drove home and called again. Police said officers recognized the woman from previous arrests.

Oddly enough, the more amusing headlines might better capture the essence of the crime. That’s due in large part to the fact it’s a ridiculous situation. Looking at the video, it initially seems like a stretch to call it a “sex incident” without some serious caveats. It shows two young women dressed like prostitutes, acting like idiots. The victim looks like a big guy in good shape. The twerking looks like something you’d see in any number of internet videos of pranks involving silly dancing in some awkward social situation. The other woman coming on to the man almost looks like she’s trying to tickle him.

On one hand, it’s easy to say that the man is being way too sensitive. There certainly are plenty of guys who wouldn’t mind a couple of scantily clad women coming on to them. I’d dare say that most men wouldn’t have a problem with it, even when it’s as aggressive as what those two women were. On the other hand, as another article explains, it really bothered this particular victim:

“You don’t know who these people are. I was afraid of my safety,” he told the station. “Like I said, I thought they were either transvestites, or women, or men dressed like women.”

The victim said when he asked the cashier for help, the man replied, “What do you want me to do?”

The ordeal left the victim feeling humiliated.

“I was assaulted sexually,” he told NBC Washington. “I felt 100 percent violated. I felt really humiliated also, because when someone is just grabbing your body parts without your permission, no matter who it is, that’s just a violation completely.”

I should probably give the victim the benefit of the doubt, but it’s not hard to wonder if he might’ve been a little more responsive to the women if he knew they were in fact women. I’m guessing he meant transgender, not transvestite, as he describes the former specifically later in his quote, but it’s pretty strange either way that most of his stated fears in that blurb involved the fact that one or both of them might have been a dude.

Furthermore, the fact the cashier wasn’t willing to help is an interesting little fact. Was it that the cashier thought it was the sort of thing the victim should’ve enjoyed or at the very least tolerated? I can’t say that I would have thought to call the police had I been the cashier. Honestly, it wouldn’t have occurred to me that I was seeing a crime. A head shake, not a 911 call, would’ve been my reaction. That it would have been the opposite had it been two men doing the exact same thing to a woman is probably evidence of my gender bias.

Had the victim not cared, nothing probably ever would have come of this. The fact he was humiliated is a major contributing factor to why this ended up resulting in an arrest and charges, but it isn’t what makes it a crime. A Reason post on the story discussed the elements of the charged offense:

In D.C., the offense of third-degree sexual abuse is defined as “engag[ing] in or caus[ing] sexual contact with or by another person” via force, threats, or rendering the individual unconscious.

Sexual contact is defined as follows:

“Sexual contact” means the touching with any clothed or unclothed body part or any object, either directly or through the clothing, of the genitalia, anus, groin, breast, inner thigh, or buttocks of any person with an intent to abuse, humiliate, harass, degrade, or arouse or gratify the sexual desire of any person.

Although it’s hard to say the girls intended to abuse the guy, it’s a pretty vague term and I couldn’t find a definition in the code. Regardless, it won’t be a tough sell for a prosecutor to convince a jury one of the other listed intents applies. What other conceivable reason could they have to do it? Sexual gratification and arousal seem like no-brainers. Prove that, and all the prosecutor needs is to show the requisite touching and the use of force, both of which are pretty apparent from the video.

The Reason post offered some interesting concluding thoughts about the situation:

Persistent unwanted advances are one thing—and maybe that is the best way to characterize the actions of our mystery convenience-store twerkers. But we seem to be headed toward a world where there can be zero ambiguity about even the mildest romantic or sexual advance without it being considered sexual assault. That sounds like a terribly boring, clinical, and libido-numbing world to me.

What also stands out after reading the law involved is that the girl’s twerking, a forceful touching of the guy’s groin with her clothed butt, just as easily satisfies the elements of the offense as the more obviously aggressive and less humorous groping that followed. It seems to me that there’s an argument that pretty much any twerking is a crime in DC. In practice, though, I’m sure it’ll always come back to the victim’s feelings, which is sort of representative of the criminal justice system in many instances. It’s whether it’s wanted or unwanted that’s likely to determine whether it’s treated like a crime or not.

Having laws that can arguably prohibit conduct as commonplace as twerking is nothing new. Making enforcement dependent on whether the victim is upset about it isn’t either. That twerking became a crime where the victim wasn’t having any of it is just a novel and amusing example of the way things often work.

6 Comments on this post.

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  • Tim Cushing
    13 November 2015 at 9:54 am - Reply

    This seems completely ridiculous, but reverse the genders in the equation (two men pawing a woman in a convenience store) and hanging wouldn’t be good enough. Treating this too lightly shows how much disparity there is in discussions of unwanted sexual contact, depending on the gender of the victim.

  • Ash
    13 November 2015 at 12:27 pm - Reply

    > That twerking became a crime where the victim wasn’t having any of it is just a novel and amusing example of the way things often work.

    I’m no lawyer, sounds like you are, but the whole article suggests twerking being a crime when it is becomes assault is nothing novel at all.

    I’m no lawyer, the whole “he touched me, he didn’t hit me, but he touched me” is assault or battery has always boggled my mind.

    A system of the lawyers, by the lawyers, for the lawyers.

    Fuck lawyers.

  • Greg Prickett
    13 November 2015 at 12:45 pm - Reply

    Typically if prostitutes are doing that, they are trying to pick your pocket while you are distracted.

    The assault charges are a valid response in this case.

  • Bob
    13 November 2015 at 12:48 pm - Reply

    Answer: The Video Music Awards, August 2013

  • jdgalt
    13 November 2015 at 1:04 pm - Reply

    If this were commonplace it wouldn’t have made the news. Besides, it obviously had to be a an attempt to either rob him or frame him for rape.

  • Windypundit
    14 November 2015 at 4:03 am - Reply

    Yeah, but if two strange women started doing that to me, my first assumption would be that they were pickpockets going after my wallet, phone, or car keys. Maybe I’m just revealing my historic lack of appeal to the opposite sex, but that kind of aggressive sexuality from strange women feels like some kind of setup. Maybe it’s just really aggressive prostitution or begging, but the way the one lady keeps moving him around feels like she’s steering him somewhere, possibly to rob him, possibly with accomplices. I don’t know what kind of crime this is, or should be, but there’s something wrong going on here.