Consent an elusive matter in agreeing on sexual activity

Chelsea Miller, victim services coordinator at the Northwest Arkansas Rape Crisis Center. (Photo by Alexandra Blacutt)

Chelsea Miller, victim services coordinator at the Northwest Arkansas Rape Crisis Center. (Photo by Alexandra Blacutt)


Razorback Reporter

By Alexandra Blacutt

Yes means yes. No means no; seemingly so.

In the complicated arena of interpersonal relationships, consent is a difficult negotiation. That has become the prevailing attitude regarding sexual consent across, college campuses in the nation. It’s very difficult to define the standard.

“I think consent is just such a hard concept to grasp for some people. An individual could say the person didn’t say ‘no,’ but did they let you know in some way that it was OK?” said Carmen Perry, a graduate assistant at Pat Walker Health Center Wellness and Health Promotion.

“If the partner initiating the activity is constantly checking in with the other person they are slowly forming a healthy intimate relationship, and reducing the gray area of consent,” she said.

Every two minutes someone in the U.S. is sexually assaulted, according to the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network. About 80 percent of victims were raped before age 25 and about 42 percent before 18, according to data from the National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey, done for the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

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“There is very little justice,” said Chelsea Miller, victim services coordinator of the Northwest Arkansas Rape Crisis Center.

At a recent Pat Walker Health Center program on wellness and health promotion, students were shown the DVD Asking For It, which featured Harry Brod, a professor of philosophy and humanities at the University of Northern Iowa. The presentation encouraged students to analyze sexual consent, and asked what should be the default attitude toward consent.

Brod advocated for a standard in which consent must be stated to engage in sexual activity.

“Consent is not something you have,” Brod said. “Consent is something the other person has to give you, and if the other person doesn’t give it to you, you don’t have it, no matter what you think the rules are supposed to be or what you think you’re entitled to.” If not, “you are endorsing a world where people have access to your body without your consent,” Brod said.

The DVD included debates about what was described in the video as default assumptions in culture, where individuals often fail to give consent, it is often seen as a green light to proceed when in reality it should mean no, a student in the film said.

Body language was brought up as a sign of consent. Brod said that before saying body language counts as consent there has to be a crystal clear unambiguous action.

“It is just dangerous, even in good faith,” Brod said.

“So, here’s the bottom line: If you have been initiating sexual activity when you are too drunk or high to know if you have consent and somebody asks you or you ask yourself, ‘Have you ever sexually assaulted or raped someone?’ the only honest answer you can give is, ‘I don’t know,’ because, by definition, you don’t know. If you have been initiating sexual activity when you are too drunk or high to know if you had consent, then you don’t know if you have sexually assaulted or raped someone,” Brod said.

Consent is slowly solidifying itself into daily conversation, where generations are learning to talk about sex and consent more openly, moving toward the affirmative consent standard.

“Consent is not silent; it is in my mind enthusiastic, and an informed agreement,” Miller said.

So is awareness.

“With individuals coming forward especially students, becoming activists making other students as well as other people, who have been assaulted feel more comfortable to tell their stories,” Perry said. “It’s just important that we have the conversation of consent, so we can actually prevent sexual assault as well as introduce other campaigns to give people more resources across campuses.

“Honestly, I think that it’s (consent) that more people are feeling comfortable talking about,” Perry said. “Even just talking about sex in general, is such a taboo subject in our society; if people don’t feel comfortable talking about sex, how are they going to feel comfortable talking about being assaulted,”