By Carina Ensminger ’14, Hawk Staff
I’ve spent the last half an hour staring at a blank Word document pondering how I should begin this article. As I am writing this now, I’ve come to the conclusion that nothing I could ever write would satisfy me. Eye popping headlines, witty angles, hooks, and flowery language will not work for this article. The only way I can write about rape, sexual assault, and consent is with unadorned honesty.
I need more fingers and toes to count the number of people in my life who have either been raped or sexually assaulted. And these are only the people who have opened up to me about their experiences.
We would like to think rape and sexual assault are uncommon. The result of a few people’s maliciousness. Back alley bad guys. Strangers slipping drugs into drinks with shifty eyes. A few awful individuals prowling the midnight streets. But the sad truth is that rape and sexual assault are unnervingly common. According to a 2005 study by the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network (RAINN), one in four women will be sexually assaulted in her lifetime, and 10 percent of all sexual assault victims are male.
We would like to think that rape and sexual assault are perpetrated only by people we don’t know: the nameless person in a van or shaded alley strangers with knives or guns. But that’s not true either. Approximately 67 percent of all rapes and 73 percent of all sexual assaults are perpetrated by someone the victim knows.
I think that these numbers reveal something essential about our culture: we live in a society that perpetuates violence through ignorance. We blame victims rather than perpetrators. We objectify women. We correlate masculinity with boundless sex drive. And above all, we do not know what consent actually is.
In my public high school, an entire section of our sex education class was devoted to abstinence and protection. I remember spending weeks discussing abstinence, condoms, and other methods of contraception. But consent? I hardly remember discussing it. I am sure we did, but the fact that I cannot remember the discussion disturbs me. I think there is something truly wrong with the way we educate ourselves about sex if consent does not drive the conversation. If contraception is mentioned more than communication. If we frame sexual activity in a way that teaches us to protect ourselves but does not teach us to respect our partners.
Before I get into the specifics of consent, I want to talk about how I think we should frame sexual activity. So often sex is described as a conquest, a game, a trophy. I personally see these as an extension of violence. Framing sex in these imperialistic terms disrespects and objectifies your partner. They’re something to be won rather than someone to be respected.
To me, sex is not a conquest; it is a gift someone gives you. When someone feels comfortable enough with themselves, with their body, and with you to allow you to touch them, it’s an honor and a privilege. Humble yourself and remember you are never entitled to another’s body.
Now let’s talk about consent.
Consent is freely given agreement to engage in a specific type of physical contact. Should an individual feel pressured to say yes, should they be physically forced to say yes, should they be emotionally manipulated into saying yes—this is not true consent. Consent can only be given when the person freely gives it without feeling threatened, manipulated, ashamed, berated, or abused into doing so.
So saying to someone, “If you love me you would,” is not getting consent. Repeatedly pressuring someone until they finally say yes is not getting consent. Rape and sexual assault don’t arise from only asserting physical force; they also encompass emotional manipulation.
Consent can be given verbally or through body language. The latter is where things can get murky. Golden rule: when in doubt, ask. Set boundaries before you begin so you both know what the other is okay with. And if the boundary changes in the middle of it, communicate that.
Consent can never be freely given when you are intoxicated. Drunk. High. Whatever. If the person is under the influence of some behavioral modifying substance to the point where they can no longer make coherent decisions, they cannot give their informed consent. Even if they say yes in an inebriated state, it is not consent.
Consent given for one thing is not consent given for another. Consent to kiss someone on the lips is not consent to touch them elsewhere. Listen to your partner. Ask what they’re comfortable with.
Consent given at one time is not consent given at a different time. Just because someone consented to kissing you yesterday does not mean they will consent today.
No can encompass any type of refusal. I don’t feel like it. Stop. Not now. Even turning your head away or pushing someone away is a refusal.
No does not mean convince me otherwise. No is not being coy. No is not flirting. No is not try harder. No means no. Period.
Last thing. Remember, this is your body. Always, always, always, check in with yourself. Do you feel safe? Do you feel comfortable? Are you okay with everything? You are your first priority, and if the answer to any of these questions is ever no, stop, step back, and communicate that. End of story.