No means No – Or Does It?

I’d like to tell you a hypothetical story based on facts from what I’ve seen and heard countless times in the last 20 or so years of my life.

Suburban family – mom, dad, three children. Kelsey as 13, Billy is 7, and Maddie is 5. Mom and Dad both work outside the home, with mom being able to arrange her work schedule to be home when Maddie is not in morning kindergarten. Four bedroom house, so each child has his/her own bedroom. Rules are that each child is responsible for keeping their bedroom neat; Mom is helping Billy and Maddie learn how to dust and vacuum their rooms and change their bed linens while Kelsey is self-sufficient. The kids also help with chores around the house, such as clearing the table after dinner, taking their pile of clean clothes to their room and putting them away, etc.

Kelsey is content to spend time quietly in her room, doing homework or reading. Maddie is mommy’s little helper and likes to follow mommy around whatever she’s doing. Billy, however, is a rather sulking and sometimes aggressive child – people would say he’s “all boy”. He has no respect for his sisters’ belongings, taking things from their rooms and often breaking them in the process of playing with them. He is quick to stomp and slam doors when he doesn’t get his way. He sasses and talks back to his parents, who have adopted the decision to just ignore him when he does.

I’ll stop the story there, hoping you’ve gotten my intent. I’m sure you’ve seen it happen in public places – stores and restaurants – with other children. At some point, parents get frustrated and/or embarrassed and end up acquiescing to their child’s demands, regardless of how many times they have said “No!”.

Now, ‘little’ Billy is 19 years old and is on trial for rape of a minor girl. The facts unfold between the prosecution and the defense’s witnesses, and Billy is called to the stand. When it is the opposing prosecution’s turn to cross-examine the witness, Billy is asked if the girl said “No” to what he was doing to her. She has already testified that she’d said “No” multiple times but he didn’t stop. He agrees that she had said “No” more than once. When asked why he didn’t stop when she said “No” because, after all, “No” means “No”, Billy tries to explain but is cut off by the prosecution’s attorney. The defense attorney asks to again question his witness, and his attorney then asks him why he didn’t stop when the girl kept saying, “No”. Billy then explained that he knew that “No” didn’t always mean “No”, that sometimes it meant you needed to work harder to get a “Yes”, so he kept going, past every “No”, believing she’d eventually give in and say, “Yes”.

But no means no, doesn’t it? Where would he have gotten that belief from????