We live in the age of #MeToo movements, consent education, and national debates over sexual assault and rape cases. For the first time, we are finally having open discussion around consent. Previous generations would hardly ever discuss consent at school or home. In a survey given by Planned Parenthood, only 21% of adults were been taught how to ask for consent in high school. Now, many public schools openly discuss and debate the topic of consent.
Consent is not determined by the clothes someone is wearing, or something that can be assumed. Consent, according to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, is to give assent or approval. Without it, sexual contact or activity is considered rape. While one person may be enjoying themselves, another person in the same exact situation could, at the same time, feel completely different. What’s great for one person could be completely traumatizing for another. Consent is about learning to understand the best way to communicate your own expectations and then giving the other person the opportunity to comfortably communicate theirs. Consent can change at any moment. As soon as someone says no, stops or gives any sort of affirmation that they are uncomfortable, sexual activity is no longer consensual. The best way to know if something is consensual is to ask. In a recurring sexual relationship especially, both people should be checking in with the other person regularly, and giving the option to safely say no.
Powerful people, like Bill Cosby and Harvey Weinstein, make it difficult for victims to express their dissent. These men understand what consent is. They understand that what they are doing is wrong. They just don’t care. There is a genuine lack of empathy and humanity in those who knowingly harm others for their own pleasure. Bill Cosby has at least 60 accusers, and the assault, rape and drugging he is guilty of began in the mid-sixties. Finally, the victims of these rapists are coming forward to stand up for themselves.
According to the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network (RAINN), about every 98 seconds an American is sexually assaulted. The only thing that can stop this is if people begin speaking up. Dr. Christine Blasey Ford just recently came forward to discuss her assault. Her accusations were against Brett Kavanaugh, who is now an Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States. Dr. Ford waited over three decades to come forward with her accusation because she did not find it necessary until the man who had sexually assaulted her was to be appointed to the highest court in America. Not only is the discussion of sexual assault and rape difficult for the traumatized victims, but sometimes, even if guilty, rapists walk free because of a lack of substantial evidence.
Often, the excuse for sexual assault or rape among teenagers is that they didn’t know any better. Teenagers are expected to be able to memorize terms, formulas and concepts for exams that test our knowledge on challenging subjects. For many, it’s hard to imagine that someone who can pass a high school test is unable to comprehend the basic human decency necessary to partake in a consensual relationship.
Eighth Grader Gillis Cocker explained that, “Consent means that you’re giving someone else permission to do something that involves yourself. It’s really important, especially in relationships. We learned about it in school.” A clear and simple answer, given by someone who isn’t even in high school.
From day one children are taught good and bad, right and wrong. They begin to learn about the concept of consent when we are very young, and it remains relevant for the rest of their lives. At Nantucket Elementary School, for several years, students were taught to understand what each of the letters in the acronym “CARE” stood for: Compassion, Assertion, Respect, and Empathy. This was a phrase used school-wide to remind us how to treat each other. In Nantucket Public Schools, students are often taught how damaging bullying can be to another student. While this is a good place to start the conversation about empathy, the conversation gets more complicated as students grow older. Both being unable to identify problems with another student, and not speaking up for yourself when you feel you’ve been bullied set a dangerous precedent for children and adults alike as they get involved in more intimate relationships.
Being able to comprehend that forcing someone to do something they don’t want to do, especially something as personal as sex, is crucial to the development of all people. The easiest way to know if someone wants to do something is to ask for consent. Being able to vocalize and ask for consent is important in any form of relationship, no matter the context.