Opinion: Let’s talk about consent

It is 2018 and the movement of the moment is ending sexual violence and discrimination towards women. #MeToo and #TimesUp captured national headlines, but they were only designed to start a discussion. Now we need to talk about specific changes in how we act and communicate.

There are a lot of misconceptions about consent. While ignorance is not a crime, once a person becomes aware that there is a problem in their behavior or the behavior of their society, they have a responsibility to ask what exactly is the problem, and what is the solution?

The problem is sexual assault and rape. The solution begins with everyone understanding consent and ends in reforming social norms that contribute to sexual assault and rape.

What is consent?

According to the Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network (RAINN), consent is “an agreement between participants to engage in sexual activity.” RAINN emphasizes making a national standard for consent that requires all consent to be freely given, informed, and affirmative. These three terms will appear often in any search regarding sexual consent.

Freely given means that consent cannot be coerced through emotional manipulation; that includes guilt, ultimatums, threats, or persuasion beyond an initial no. It also means consent is always revocable at any time, for any reason. In the case that consent is revoked, it is important not to shame or guilt the revoking partner; their reasons are valid and may be tied to past traumas, not simply your actions.

Informed consent means that all parties involved need to inform their partner of any risks that can arise from the sexual encounter. This includes informing partners of any STIs or birth control methods used. To be informed requires that all parties involved are in a clear state of mind. That means if one or all parties involved are impaired by drugs or alcohol, then consent cannot be given. This also declares how long consent will remain active, consent tonight cannot be applied tomorrow.

Affirmative means that consent must be given through clear verbal communication or clear nonverbal communication. Consent does not have to be voiced, however not saying no or not resisting does not count as consent.

If consent is given via nonverbal cues, the actions being requested must still be made mutually clear, comprehensable, agreeable. All of this is easily achievable without words, however, because not everyone is good at or focused on reading body language in the moment, I recommend that people default to verbally declaring consent.

It is important for everyone to be aware that the “fight or flight” response exists when humans are put in uncomfortable situations is obsolete. Current psychology operates on a fight, flight, or freeze definition to conflict. So it is important to look for signs of discomfort in partners.

I informally asked 11 DMACC Ankeny students about sexual consent. The results were hopeful but unsettling. Everyone interviewed understood what consent was and some of its factors of consent, but several did not know that if two people are equally drunk, that does not make them able to give consent. Nor that a pushy yes is defined as rape.

Luckily, students identify that we have a problem with sexual assault and rape in our society and want it to end. To everyone reading this, communication is the best step you can take. Please talk about consent. Tell your friends, family, coworkers, and your partner. Be an advocate to spread the word about consent when it comes up in your life.

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