Consent is a heavy subject, and not just a simple black and white. Everyone knows the very basics of sexual consent; we all know that having sex with someone who says no is rape. However, life is never clear cut and some incidents and circumstances can be difficult to make sense of. Given the numerable allegations of sexual assault against Harvey Weinstein, and then others after the story broke, and the #MeToo trend raising awareness to sexual assault, now is a good time to discuss what consent actually is and clear up misconceptions.
I think a partial lack of understanding of consent stems for it rarely being mentioned in Sex Education. Given that the vast majority of primary schools are in the hands of the Catholic Church, for most people, “the talk” is riddled with religious bias and focuses almost solely on procreation. There is no set standard of what we’re taught on the matter. I know some people who never had the talk, others who were essentially told that “when you’re a married couple and want to make a baby…”, and a rare few who actually had comprehensive unbiased sexual education.
In my secondary school, we had the same nurse come in every year, with the same PowerPoint presentation and videos. She had around an hour and a half (two class periods) to get through everything, and promised us so much, yet every year without fail made it to the exact same point in the presentation before her time ran up and we had to leave. She always promised to get further next time and never did.
We had enough graphic images of STIs burned into our skulls to put us off lunch every year and could probably recite the script of the video about how all the images we might see of private bits are photo shopped or the result of plastic surgery. The word consent was never uttered once. In fact, anything valuable or new information was never taught to us. Everyone had to simply educate themselves or continue uninformed.
I believe it’s partially because of this, people make it all the way to college and then out into the real world with inaccurate knowledge of the birds and the bees. I in no way am accusing schools of negligence; I think many just assume the parents will cover it with their kids. Meanwhile, the parents are assuming the school is going to teach it to their kids. The reality is no one wants to sit a teenager or child down to talk about sex. I often wonder if we implemented a set standard and curriculum in all schools to be given by unbiased professionals would it make a difference. I believe people would be somewhat safer, but I’m not naïve enough to hope that it would eradicate sexual violence all together.
Last year, the UL Student Union had to cancel the consent classes it tried to host after only 14 students signed up. It’s too late by the time students are in college to teach them Sex Education or about consent, by that point a large amount of students are already sexually active, and a proportion of them will have had some sort of pregnancy or STI scare, and even sadder, some will have had their consent violated. It needs to be discussed from a young age so that when the time comes, people are educated.
This isn’t going to stop sexual violence, but we need to understand that sexual assault for the most part isn’t the stereotypical incident of women being ambushed by men at night.
Sexual assault is about power. Terry Crews, a 6 ft 3¼ man weighing approximately 111 kg was sexually assaulted. People’s gender, how they dress, if they are promiscuous, or if they were drinking has little to no relevance; it can happen to anyone. The argument that people, usually women, shouldn’t go out, shouldn’t wear revealing clothing, should never walk home alone is essentially useless; people have been and are sexually assaulted at home, even by family members. It happens everywhere. Under that logic we all might as well just cease to exist to prevent it. However, instead of blaming the victim for drinking or being alone, perhaps we should actually blame the only person responsible; the perpetrator.
No matter what, people always find a way to blame victims and suggest that they deserved or wanted to be assaulted. When the urge to say “yes but they shouldn’t have done…”, comes people need to stop for a second and realise that they are literally defending a sexual predator. How are we going to learn to understand and value consent when people insist that somehow, no matter what, the victim was at fault?
When a man is sexually assaulted the discourse is that “men can’t be raped”, “they always want it”, or that they’re weak. Men must be able to consent too, and should be taken seriously. Everyone is entitled to be able to consent and have their consent valued. We complain of double standards, but perpetuate them with these ideas.
Women, unfortunately, have taken precautions, we can’t go out without being told to not to put our drink down, and we don’t let our friends go to the bathroom alone. It’s an unfair reality, but failing to do those things does not mean we deserve to be raped. The belief that someone is asking for it, is not only offensive, but also idiotic. Asking for it implies asking to have sex, which would mean that consensual sex took place. There is no such thing as asking for it.
Consent is a clear, sober, and willing yes. It must be ongoing. If someone asks to stop half way through, continuing regardless of that is sexual assault. Intentionally getting someone drunk or spiking their drink to have sex with them is rape. Under the influence of alcohol or drugs, you are not able to consent. Finding someone much drunker than you are or passed out and deciding to sleep with them is not “getting lucky”, it is taking advantage of someone unable to consent, and in turn, it is rape. Making someone afraid to say no, also does not count as consent. Nor can consent ever be assumed, it doesn’t matter if you’re in a relationship, involved with one another, or even literally in bed with one another, no still means no.
Some people laugh when they’re uncomfortable, or are too quiet to give a “strong no” but it’s still a no, when in doubt stop and ask again. Even if someone is promiscuous, the attitude that “well what’s one more time to them” is disgusting, it suggests that because they’ve “been around” that they deserve to be violated.
It’s also important to bear in mind that sexual assault is not always rape. The likes of groping, touching, and other sexual acts being done without consent is also a massive violation and should be taken just as seriously.
The discourse surrounding sexual assault and consent is often grim. There’s a disturbing notion that some people “deserve to be raped”. Just because you don’t like someone, or because they may not be a nice person, does not mean they deserve to be sexually assaulted. No one deserves to be sexually assaulted.
Despite all the different and complex situations, consent should be rather easy to understand. Just don’t have sex, or behave in a sexual away, with someone who doesn’t want to. Take no for the valid answer that it is, and stop.
Article by: Aisling O’Connor
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