Many individuals falsely interpret sexual assault as consisting of a dark alley, a masked man and the victim. In this warped perception, the victim will scream and put up a fight—but this does not account for all versions of sexual assault.
Unfortunately, more and more women are coming forward with their own sexual assault stories, and many are nothing like the depiction in the media. In some instances, there is no yelling, no fighting back, but there is the shock and fear.
Sexual assault comes in hundreds of different forms, including coercion, physical violence and emotional trauma. These are just a handful of tactics that lead to sexual assault, but each one rests on an important factor: the level of consent.
The pressure to have sex is higher than ever. Hooking up has become normalized in Western culture, but it brings with it a series of disadvantages. Women and men will often feel pressured by hundreds of persuasion tactics to perform or engage in acts that they do not want to engage in. Consent is put on the back burner during a sexual encounter. While it can be easy to say that the perpetrator got caught up in the moment, for the other partner, it becomes sexual assault.
Consent is easily defined as permission for something to happen, yet there are still misunderstandings as to what consent means—especially in sexual encounters. As a society, we must redefine consent to create safer environments when we are at our most vulnerable.
We must realize that one “no” is all that is needed to deny consent. Additionally, people must be more vocal about consent. Asking for consent before a moment turns sexual takes a little more than a second and should be done before every encounter.
Similarly, consent does not roll over for the next encounter. Just because someone has agreed to sex once does not mean that consent is implied for any situation in the future. Furthermore, consent should not be assumed in every sexual encounter, regardless of the type of a relationship.
Without a verbal “yes,” there is no consent. Dressing in a certain fashion is not a measure of consent. If a woman is wearing a low-cut dress, or even if she is wearing nothing at all, it does not mean that she “wants it.”
Coercion comes in a variety of forms and phrases: “If you loved me, you would.” “You let so-and-so do it, why not me?” “I know you want it.” These are all forms of coercion in which the victim is being persuaded into a sexual encounter that they do not want. This is considered sexual assault.
Continuously berating someone into a sexual act is not consensual. A consensual act occurs only when both parties have given the go-ahead to proceed. Continuously asking for sex, after a partner has already declined, is not consent. Giving in to stop the badgering is not consent.
Moreover, a lack of a “no” does not mean consent in any way. Incapacitation, which often happens in these cases due to heavy drinking, is never a reason to assume consent. While a person may not physically fight back or decline the sexual activity, it does not mean that they want it. Likewise, reading nonverbal cues plays a key role in assessing consent. If a person backs away or does not respond to sexual advances, it is a clear sign that they do not give consent.
Consent can be revoked at any moment during a sexual encounter. If someone gets uncomfortable or simply wants to stop, this individual has every right to retract their consent. If the other party continues, they are committing sexual assault.
Sex is awkward and confusing, but consent does not have to be. Those initiating sex should always ask for consent, and the person on the receiving end must be vocal about what is or is not working during the encounter.
Don’t like a particular position? Tell them. Want to try something new? Ask. People are not mind readers. Communication during a sexual activity will keep both parties safe.
Consent is mandatory and should not be overlooked under any circumstances. Consent should not be a gray area: it is either a yes or a no.