On the 14th and 15th of October I had the most wonderful opportunity to attend a symposium at the University of Calgary called “Ask First: Creating a Campus Culture of Consent”. At this symposium I heard the research and experience of students and professionals all working towards the common goal of ending sexual violence.
A recurring point throughout was the need for early education on not only consent, phthisiatrician but also sexuality. In Canadian curricula, cheap ideas around consent are mentioned vastly less than ideas around abstinence. A question was asked to how we can expect our children to understand what is and is not consent when much of the time their own body parts are taboo. What we need is to teach affirmative sexuality before teaching affirmative consent. Affirmative sexuality means to have more comprehensive sexual education early on, teaching positive sexuality and sexual exploration. Now in no way does this mean we should be teaching children to be aggressively sexual at an early age, no, this means to teach them the difference between good touch and bad touch, and that it is okay to know their own bodies. The fact of the matter is that when I was growing up and my body was changing, nine times out of ten I had no idea what was going on and neither did my peers. Of course I was taught the basics, how my breasts would grow — but not about how it would hurt like hell when they did, how I would bleed at some point — but not how it was not just blood but also clots and tissue. The first time I experienced vaginal lubrication I was terrified because I had no idea what was going on. Affirmative sexuality means not separating classrooms by sex when we talk about menstruation.
A lot of people have no idea what rape is. The myth still perpetuates that the typical rapist is someone you don’t know, jumping out at you from a dark alleyway; this is not the truth. Statistically the majority of sexual violence is perpetrated by someone known to the victim — a friend, family member, acquaintance, coworker, etc. Many people believe that if you are in a conjugal relationship with someone that is you giving consent 100% of the time. The fact of the matter is that consent is an ongoing conversation. Some key points about consent:
- Consent is freely given
- Consent cannot be given past a certain point of intoxication
- Consent is not consent if it is given under duress
- Consent is not consent if it is given from feelings of guilt
There is, of course, some difficulty around obtaining comprehensive statistics around sexual violence. The main issue is that the majority of sexual violence crimes go unreported. Why exactly is it that the reporting rate is so low? Well there are multiple different tiers to this. Firstly, the victim may not understand what has gone on for days/weeks/months/years. I know for me I was always uncomfortable with certain events in my sex life but it took years for me to actually label them as sexual violence. The second issue is that if you do report you are committing to tell your story over and over and over again. Added to that, a victim then has to face a whole variety of reactions from the people they tell. There are two reactions to a victim which are either acceptance, care, belief and empathy or questioning, blaming the victim, disbelief and brushing off the incident. This last, in my experience, is the main reason why so few people report. A major change we need to make in our society is to shift the blame. Consistently victims — who either report to authorities or not — are asked what they were wearing, were they intoxicated, were they out late, did they know the people around them etc. This is ridiculous because rape is never the victim’s fault, though many people in our society believe that it is. Added to that if the rapist was a sexual partner of the victim then it is often brushed off because many seem to think that being in a relationship implies continuous consent, which it does not.
To be continued in Pt. 2!