This year, SAAM celebrated its 19th anniversary with the theme “I Ask” to empower everyone to put consent into practice. We know that one month isn’t enough to solve the serious and widespread issue of sexual violence. However, the attention April generates is an opportunity to energize and expand prevention efforts throughout the year. SAAM is about more than awareness — the ultimate goal is prevention. Since consent is a clear, concrete example of what it takes to end sexual harassment, abuse, and assault, this year’s campaign shares the message that asking for consent is a normal and necessary part of sex.
Consent is a conversation; it is about communicating your boundaries.
Think about ordering a pizza with a large group of friends- there has to be a discussion about the pizza toppings. For instance, if one person is allergic to mushrooms- we know mushrooms are not an option for our order. A conversation is required to figure out what pizza toppings everyone is comfortable with ordering. Finding mutual consent is possible, no one wants the negotiation about the pizza toppings to turn coercive or mean if there are disagreements. This same principle applies when consenting to sexual acitivity.
The following is adapted from Planned Parenthood.
We can use the acronym FRIES to outline consent:
Freely given. Consenting is a choice you make without pressure, manipulation, or under the influence of drugs or alcohol.
Reversible. Anyone can change their mind about what they feel like doing, anytime. Even if you’ve done it before, and even if you’re both naked in bed.
Informed. You can only consent to something if you have the full story. For example, if someone says they’ll use a condom and then they don’t, there isn’t full consent. If it’s not clear, it is not consent.
Enthusiastic. When it comes to sex, you should only do stuff you WANT to do, not things that you feel you’re expected to do.
Specific. Saying yes to one thing (like going to the bedroom to make out) doesn’t mean you’ve said yes to others (like having sex).
Sexual violence is a form of power-based violence. One party seeks to control another by exerting power over them. Sexual violence is used to gain power over someone else. Perpetrators may use sexual violence to manipulate their victims.
Victims are never at fault- it doesn’t matter what someone was wearing, or if they were drunk, or how they were acting. No one ever asks to experience sexual violence. The only person who makes the choice to cause harm is the offender. Call out victim blaming in every form!
We know sexual violence does not discriminate by age, gender identity, sexual orientation, religious identity, race, or enthicity. However, we also know that women and those who identify outside the binary are more vulnerable to experiencing sexual violence. This is directly due to historical and existing societal structures that oppress marginalized populations.
Victim blaming occurs when the victim of the sexual violence is held at total or partial fault for the harm that they experienced. The “just world hypothesis”, which is the idea that people deserve what happens to them, is often credited as one mindset that may enable victim blaming in our culture.
Victim blaming can be subtle or direct. For example, asking a victim what they could have done differently to prevent a sexual assault is holding the victim accountable for the offender’s actions.
Victims are never at fault- it doesn’t matter what someone was wearing, or if they were drunk, or how they were acting. No one ever asks to experience sexual violence. The only person who makes the choice to cause harm is the offender. Speak up and speak out against victim blaming in every form!
COVID 19 has put us online more than ever before. It is important to consider DIGITAL CONSENT. Whether using Zoom, Facetime, Tinder, or Facebook- we need to respect digital boundaries.
Digital boundaries dictate what someone is comfortable with. A digital boundary could be restrictions around sharing internet passwords, or rules about what content someone is comfortable sharing online with another person.
Consider how your actions online might make others feel. Respect boundaries with your partner when it comes to sexting or sharing information online.
Consent is about communicating and respecting boundaries. Before we cross boundaries, we must ask for consent! When someone crosses another person’s boundary without their consent, that is NOT okay.
One way that adult caregivers can protect children, involves talking to children about personal boundaries and obtaining consent. Personal boundaries are rules/limits a person creates for themselves. Boundaries can establish what (if any) kind of physical contact with other people is appropriate. Demonstrating boundaries with children from a very young age, even as toddlers, shows children that every individual can assert bodily autonomy. One way to support children in setting boundaries includes allowing children to choose if they want to hug a family member or friend. It’s important for children to understand that they do not have to touch anyone they don’t want to, even if it is a kiss and a hug.
We can educate children from an early age about setting boundaries and respecting consent. By doing so, we provide kids with a sense of autonomy over their own bodies. Not only does instilling a sense of autonomy in child protect the child from sexual abuse and grooming, it can also help your child have healthier relationships in the future.
For younger kids, the conversation about consent can start long before the conversation about sex. Consent simply involves respecting other people’s boundaries. It is permission for something to happen or an agreement to do something. Emphasize to your child that when asking someone to consent to something (like a hug), it should be assumed the default answer is “no” because consent must always be obtained through a verbal “yes.” Consent can be demonstrated to kids when play-tickling. If the child asks to stop being tickled, or says “No,” listen and show your child that no really means no.