Part four in a series by Joy Pedrow Skarka
The big debate in America right now: what counts as sexual assault and harassment? In a recent Barna study, Americans say that sexual harassment is most often about being touched or groped or being forced to do something sexual—but also includes mostunwanted sexual behavior. The question then becomes, how do we know when the act becomes “unwanted?”
The #MeToo Movement created dialogue around a new standard of consent and confused the hook-up culture. Magazines once filled with sex tips are now filled with consent tips. There is a debate over where the line of consent ends and where sexual assault begins. Some people believe that, “no means no,” and “yes means yes,” however, it is more complicated than that. Because of the #MeToo movement, many people enter hookups with fear and anxiety. Although this series is written for a believing audience, it is important to know what our world is teaching about consent.
In hook-up situations, what do you do if a person says no, but then says yes? Or yes, but then no? Will hook-ups have to start requiring a written form of consent? Or will fearful people, stop having sex and turn to porn? Before, people could freely meet a person at a bar and hook-up, but now one partner often stops and asks for verbal consent every step of the way.
To help the hook-up culture, Teen Vogue provided tips to obtain enthusiastic consent. This is what I learned: First, avoid partners who are vulnerable. This included people who are intoxicated by drugs or alcohol, sexually inexperienced, in a new situation, or acting recklessly or immature, their physical and/or mental capacity to make informed sexual decisions is impaired or limited. The more vulnerable, the higher chance for lack of consent or regret. Teen Vogue mentions, if they are heavily intoxicated, asleep, unconscious, or not of legal age, then they are not legally capable of providing consent, and sex with them is by default sexual assault, no matter how eager they seem.
The second thing to do is to establish reciprocal interest before you start thinking about physical touch. This includes flirting, eye contact, smiling, and talking. It is very important at this stage toensure that your partner’s intentions and expectations of the possible sexual encounter are in line with yours. For example, find our if they want a hook-up or are looking for a relationship. Third, negotiate consent verbally. Explicitly ask permission before touching. Ask permission for everything.
One way to avoid frequently asking for consent is to establish a “blanket consent” ahead of time by asking, “I’d like the freedom to hook up without continually asking permission for each individual act. But consent is really important to me, so I’d like you to tell me if something doesn’t feel good, if you want me to slow down or stop. Does this work for you?” Even with a blanket consent, you must remember that at any point, the partner can say no or change their mind.
The article ends by explaining what to do if you “screw up” with your consent, “Make amends (as much as possible), then learn from your mistakes and don’t repeat them. And remember, like with many things in life, practice makes perfect.” If a person “screws up,” does that mean they sexually assaulted someone? Our culture is trying to figure out how to safely mix the hook-up culture and the impacts of the #MeToo movement.
Legally, consent matters a lot. Rape myths argue that as long as a person isn’t saying no, if sex happens, it’s consensual. This isn’t always the case. The person could say yes first, and then say no, or the abuser could have more power or authority over the victim and the victim may not feel like there is a way out of the situation. If the victim is under legal age and the rapist is an adult, intoxicated by alcohol or drugs, passed out or asleep, powerless or too frightened to protest—there was no consent and this is considered rape or sexual assault. When people fail to believe the above examples are situations where the victim lacks consent, rape myths continue and rape culture is perpetuated. Women believe the rape was their fault and men get away unharmed.
It is also important to talk about what counts as a “no.” Some people, especially college boys, believe in the idea that when a woman says no she really means yes. This is not supported in empirical research. Women are constantly viewed at untrustworthy. Instead of doubting women, let’s believe women. Here are some examples of “no” besides a woman audibly saying “no”: avoiding eye contact, turning away her face, not reciprocating touch, nervousness, anger, or sadness. When in doubt, it is best to ask.
When people fail to agree on consent, people will fail to agree on sexual assault. In a study on alcohol-related sexual assaults on college campuses, the study found that, “college men report rates (of sexual assault) lower than college women do because many men view the woman’s non-consent as vague, ambiguous or insincere and convince themselves that their forcefulness was normal seduction not rape.” Men also use alcohol as an excuse for consent. Rape myths argue that if a woman was drunk, she was asking for it. In the same study on alcohol-related sexual assaults, researchers discovered, “Alcohol consumption is sometimes used as a justification for men’s socially inappropriate behaviors. Men believe that their intoxicated condition caused them to initially misperceive their partner’s degree of sexual interest and later allowed them to feel comfortable using force when the women’s lack of consent finally became clear to them.”
For more information, check out this Barna research on what Americans believe constitutes sexual harassment.