Everyone has the right to a safe, healthy, and consensual relationship. We all deserve to be respected and to be listened to when we say no. Consent is not only important, but also necessary. So, what exactly is consent? Consent is a freely given “yes,” with the option of “no” available. It is enthusiastic, sober, clear, and specific. Consent is not silence or the lack of a “no,” it is not manipulated or forced. Consent is never implied by what you wear, where you go, or your past behavior. You get final say over what happens to your body. So, it doesn’t matter if you said yes to something earlier, you can always change your mind and say stop. And whoever you are with needs to respect that and needs to respect you.
I feel like in our society sexual activity is a taboo subject. When it comes to giving “the talk” to their kids, parents can often be awkward and avoidant. In schools, sexual education, when offered, is often severely lacking. And then there’s the media. In my experience, I don’t usually see characters in shows and movies having discussions about consent. And because of that I think some people may feel uncomfortable or awkward talking about sex with a partner. Maybe you think it might “ruin the mood.” The truth is, it’s important to talk about these things before you do anything. In the end talking about consent, about what you are comfortable with, removes awkwardness. As you progress in your relationship consent is an ongoing conversation. Saying yes to something once doesn’t mean you don’t have to ask permission or talk about it again. You and your partner need to express to each other clearly and enthusiastically what you want and what you are comfortable with. The problem arises from people not being able to take no for an answer. “No,” “I don’t know,” “maybe,” and “I’m not sure” all mean no. Unfortunately, even when someone says “no” people don’t always listen.
Have you ever walked faster at night, especially when you’re alone? Do you carry pepper spray? Have you ever pretended to be on the phone so someone would stop following you? I think that almost all women would answer yes to at least one of these questions. I feel like I am constantly hearing a new story every week about a woman who says no to a man and end up raped, assaulted, or dead. It is terrifying to constantly hear. In the United States, 1 in 5 women have experienced complete or attempted rape at least once in their life . Other statistics from the U.S. also tell us that:
- About 24.85% of men experienced some form of sexual violence.
- 81% of women and 43% of men have reported experiencing some form of sexual harassment/assault.
- 1% of female victims of rape reported being raped by an intimate partner while 40.8% by an acquaintance.
- 4% of male victims reported being raped by an acquaintance and 15.1% by a stranger .
When it comes to the survivors of assault and rape who come forward, there is a terrible trend of victim blaming. Victims are often asked “well, what were you wearing,” “why were you walking alone,” “did you say no,” “were you drinking.” I think the idea of victim blaming comes from the belief that people deserve what happens to them, that if something bad happens you had to have done something to cause it. Blaming victims for what happens to them is an easy way for people to avoid thinking about the fact that something just like this could happen to them, even if they do everything “right.” Not only do we need to reframe the way we think about victims to prevent victim blaming, but we must also change the way we think of perpetrators. Talking specifically about sexual assault and rape cases, people who know the perpetrator usually have a hard time seeing them as a rapist. Often this can lead to media and new coverage focusing on the perpetrator’s achievements and other attributes. A lot of times rapists and sexual offenders are described as “star-athletes,” or other attributes that take away from the crime they’ve committed. This is just another way for people to distance themselves from the crime, and for loved ones to distance the person they know from the crime they’ve committed. And the survivors who come forward are often told that their accusations will end up ruining the perpetrator’s life. What about the victims? Rape culture will continue to thrive as long as survivors face more scrutiny than rapists.
As I mentioned before one way to combat this is by having better sex education. To teach our youth about respect, consent, boundaries, and safety. Specifically, it is important to teach boys about consent and respect, so they don’t have to spend the rest of their adult lives trying to unlearn the toxic masculinity they have seen and learned from home and society. In 2019 the American Psychological Association (APA) released guidelines to help psychologists work with men and boys. The APA describes traditional masculinity as being “marked by stoicism, competitiveness, dominance and aggression” and as being harmful to men . Sometimes it is difficult to have conversations about toxic masculinity, because when some people hear it, they are very quick to get defensive. The opposite of toxic masculinity isn’t no masculinity, it’s healthy masculinity. Social media can sometimes be a safe place for men to experiment with their identity, work to disentangle themselves from toxic masculine ideas, and feel validated in expressing themselves. But these conversations shouldn’t be just limited to social media, we should have these open conversations at home and in schools. We need men, especially heterosexual, cisgender men, to call out other men, encourage them to communicate their feelings without violence, and encourage them to be vulnerable. Med should be comfortable being open, vulnerable, empathetic, and kind. These characteristics, that are often seen as feminine, are not feminine or masculine, they are simply human.
Overall, we as a society need to improve our understanding of consent and respect. To prevent sexual and physical assault, we need to remove toxic masculinity. Rather than victim blaming survivors, we need to hold perpetrators accountable and punish them accordingly. Instead of focusing on teaching women how not to get raped, why don’t we focus on teaching boys to understand that no means no and that they should respect it. Teach people that rejection is okay and how to accept that rejection without turning to violence. No one owes you a relationship, a date, a kiss, or anything else. We all have the right to bodily autonomy and the right to be heard and listened to when we say no. “No,” is a full sentence and does not require an explanation.
Works Cited https://www.nsvrc.org/statistics  https://www.apa.org/monitor/2019/01/ce-corner