Why You Should: Understand Consent
The statistics are increasingly startling and upsetting—as of 2015, it was reported that 1 in 5 women will be raped in their lifetime, and 27% of women in college will experience some kind of unwanted or undesired sexual contact. As one of the most underreported crimes, sexual assault is alive and well on college campuses across America, despite the ongoing efforts of universities and outreach groups to educate students on consent and sexual safety. It isn’t always some nameless person at a party that commits the crime; 8 out of 10 rapes are committed by someone the victim knows personally.
It’s easy for a victim of rape or sexual assault to feel alone, or even that they were at fault for becoming a victim. Even in 2016, many people do not understand the concept of consent, and the fact that they have the right to give and revoke it at any time, and the right to have that choice respected by intimate sexual partners and strangers alike.
Recently, a video went viral that used the act of offering someone a cup of tea as a metaphor to illustrate the concept of consent. The point of the video is clear: if you offer someone a cup of tea, and they say they don’t want it, you wouldn’t force them to drink the tea, right? Or, if they say they want tea, then decide halfway through drinking it that they don’t want it anymore, you wouldn’t force them to keep drinking it, would you?
Despite its light-hearted humor, the video touches on various aspects of consent that seem to be difficult to grasp for many college-aged men and women. Many people are unaware of the fact that consent is theirs to give and take, regardless of the surrounding circumstances.
So, if you happen to be one of these people whose idea of consent is a bit on the foggy side, make sure you understand a few things:
You can take consent away at any time.
Many people have the idea that once they have given consent, they can’t revoke it. When I was a teenager, I had no idea that once I said yes, I could still change my mind later on, and that “no” should be respected by my partner. I had a few negative sexual encounters because my male partners were unwilling to allow me to revoke consent when I became uncomfortable or scared, because they felt once I had told them yes, I couldn’t take that back.
This is false. Even if you already said yes, you can still say no.
Legally, you cannot give consent when you are under the influence.
If you are incapacitated by drugs or alcohol, you cannot legally give consent. Consent itself entails a voluntary, informed act, and if you’re drunk or high, it’s pretty difficult to be informed about anything. College women at parties sometimes come with different expectations than their male counterparts; women might be looking for a little making out or innocent kissing, while men might be more inclined to expect sex. These conflicting goals can lead to sexual assault at parties while under the influence.
Dating someone or even being married does not grant automatic consent.
Regardless of your relationship status with your sexual partner, there is no such thing as automatic consent. Even if you are in a long-term, committed relationship, you or your partner can still decline sex, and this denial of consent still needs to be respected.
Disregarding your partner’s denial of consent and proceeding to push sex on them is considered rape.
The clothes you wear are not “reasons” for rape or assault.
Many women are led to believe that if they are dressed in clothes that expose their body, or that might imply they are willing to have sex, that they are “asking for it” when they become victims of sexual violence. This is not true.
You cannot wear consent on your body. You must give it voluntarily. If you happen to see a man or women dressed in clothes that you consider sexual or that expose their body, that does not give you permission to initiate sexual contact without explicit consent.
Revoking consent can be more than a simple “no.”
If your partner is pushing you away when you try to initiate sex, or they suggest you do something else—they’re saying no. Maybe your partner is saying he is tired, or that she wants to go home. Maybe you aren’t in the mood to have sex, but you’d still like to cuddle or be intimate in other ways.
Respect your partner’s wishes, and demand your own be respected as well.
You don’t have to give into pressure.
If your partner is pressuring or guilting you into having sex with them, you can still say no. If you agreed to engage in some sexual behavior, but you don’t want to do other things, you don’t have to. If your partner agreed to have sex with you last night, that doesn’t mean they automatically want to have sex with you in the morning. If you feel pressured, guilted, or uncomfortable, speak up. Be firm and clear.
Report unwanted sexual contact.
There is a lot of victim blaming going on in today’s society, and because of this, a vast majority of sexual crimes go unreported. Many people feel like they will be blamed, or that the authorities will dismiss them. As a college student, you have other resources besides the police. Check for a campus victim advocacy center, or go to the student health center. These offices can contact the police on your behalf, and help you file a report and get the help you need.
College is a stressful enough time without the added problem of dealing with unwanted sexual contact or sexual assault. You are in control of your body and your sexual decisions. If you need help, seek it. There are people on your campus willing to extend a hand and get you the help you need. If you have questions or concerns, seek help on campus through the student health center, counseling center, or victim advocacy office.