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Let’s talk about consent

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 *Trigger Warning: Sexual assault*

 

It’s almost Charity Week, a week for giving and week for partying. It’s important to protect yourself and others, not only during Charity Week but all the time.

Last year’s consent classes had to be canceled due to low sign up rates, however, at the recent ULSU AGM, it was announced that the SU is working on introducing a new module for all first-year students that address nutrition, wellbeing, mental health, consent, sexual health, addiction, and more.

According to ULSU’s Liz Gabbet, this semester, ULSU Welfare officer, Roberta Harrington, secured financial support from UL Student Affairs and the go-ahead from the Academic Deans to roll out the first SMART Consent classes to first years.

However, for those of us who have and will miss out on the module and classes, it’s important to educate ourselves.

With the #Metoo and #TimesUp movements being very topical at the moment, now is a good time to clear up what consent does and does not mean.

Liz summed up consent as:  about communication; it can be verbal, non-verbal, it is ongoing, it is freely given, and it applies to any form of sexual activity and intimacy – from the gentle touch, kiss, to full-on penetrative sex.

Liz refered to NUIG’S SHAG (Sexual Heath, and Attitudes, Galway)  report as “an essential insight into what college students think Sexual Consent is, their attitudes, behaviour, sexual health, healthy relationships and more.”

She continued by saying that consent affects us all and when consent is not sought or given, the ramifications on the lives of the individuals involved, friends, family, are devastating.

Let’s be clear, consent must be:

  • Willingly given
  • Ongoing.
  • Informed
  • Given by everyone involved
  • Conscious

This means, in order to consent to sex all parties must give their consent on their own accord, without being pressured into doing so. A legal contract is deemed null and void if one party was forced into it, and the same applies to sexual encounters. If someone says no to you, this is not an invitation to try manipulating them, talk them into, or guilt them into doing something they obviously don’t want to do.

If someone says that they would like to stop halfway through, then stop, as continuing to have sex with someone who has expressed that they do not want to anymore is rape.

You are not “getting lucky” if you pick someone blackout drunk, or much drunker than you are, up at a club and take them home to sleep with them – you have taken advantage of someone who is unable to consent and therefore raped them. It’s one thing if both or all parties are as drunk as each other, but if someone is sober and sleeps with a someone who is to – or worse, if someone gets another person drunk or spikes their drink in order to sleep with them then that is rape.

You have a responsibility to not only mind your own sexual health but also the sexual health of whoever you decide to involve yourself with. If you are withholding information from someone that may make them change their mind about having sexual relations, for example, if you have put yourself at risk of contracting an STI and therefore, could be putting your current sexual partner at risk too, then they were not given the right to informed consent. There have been instances where stelting (the act of removing a condom during sex without your partner’s knowledge) have resulted in convictions of rape, as the other party consented to protected sex, not unprotected sex.

If someone passes out or is asleep it is not an invitation to “go to town on them”, as you cannot consent while unconscious. There’s a frightening amount of memes on social media about how this is “surprise sex” but really, it’s sexual assault. If you’re that desperate for action, wake them up and ask.

The SHAG report found that to communicate consent to sexual intercourse, 50% of females and 58% of males agreed or strongly agreed that they would just keep moving forward in sexual behaviours or actions unless their partner stopped them. Furthermore, 73% of females and 77.5% of males agreed and strongly agrees that they would ask a partner if they wanted to go back to their place to communicate consent to sex.

Consent is not:

  • Presumed
  • Based on clothing
  • Based on the amount of alcohol/drugs taken
  • Going to someone’s room
  • Given by someone who is not mentally sound, which can include being intoxicated

“The SHAG report data and my conversations with students show that 84% would prefer that consent always be obtained before the start of any sexual activity but when asked what do they think other students think about seeking consent they believed only 38% would want consent. From this figure alone, I hope everyone would stop worrying about what other people think and do the right thing, ask the person of their desire for consent because that is what they would want for themselves” Liz said.

“Students have said seeking consent in a relationship is much easier than in a hookup situation because you know the person. In a hookup, people are shy asking intimate questions that they think might kill the mood, but the reality of what we see in the media and current cases in the courts, seeking explicit consent is so important and needs to become part of the social norm”, she continued.

It doesn’t matter if someone is literally in bed next to you; you still need consent before doing anything. Just because you may be in a relationship, involved with one another, or one party is “promiscuous”, that does not mean you can assume you can do anything you want to them.

Bear in mind that some people laugh when they are uncomfortable or are not very assertive, just because it wasn’t a “strong no” does not mean it is okay for you to sleep with them anyway or to perform sexual acts. If someone is silent, pushing you away, turning away from you, seems uncomfortable, or not reciprocating does not mean that you get to keep going, it means you need to stop and ask them if they are okay with what is going on. When in doubt, always ask for consent.

There is no such thing as asking for it. The term “asking for it” implies, asking for sex, and if someone asked for sex, then wouldn’t it be consensual sex?

Just because someone is wearing revealing clothing does not mean they want to sleep with someone. Some people like to dress up for themselves because it makes them feel confident.

Just because someone is drinking or in a club does not mean they are looking for sex.

Just because you’ve been with them before, doesn’t mean you can assume they want to sleep with you again.

Just because someone consented to go back to yours, does not mean they consented to have sex. Often this is phrased as “let’s go back to mine and watch a movie”, just because someone didn’t pick up on the “Netflix and Chill” implication, does not mean that they should be taken advantage of or assaulted.

Just because someone may not have kept an eye on their drink, or ended up alone, or are out in the dark, does not mean they deserve to be sexually assaulted.

Generally speaking, sex-ed is sub-par and consent is rarely something young people are educated on, but if you decide to become sexually active then you have a responsibility to educate yourself in order to keep yourself safe as well as others. If you’re too immature to ask for consent, or if you think asking for consent is ruins the mood, then you are too immature to be having sex in the first place.

When it boils down to sexual assault, instead of blaming the victims for not “adequately protecting themselves”, how about we blame the sole person responsible: the person who assaulted them.

Liz concluded by saying that: The SMART Consent classes are about protecting and enabling students to seek consent. They are also about changing the public mindset on what social norms are. We, as a society, need to do this for everyone’s well being.

If you have been affected by these issues please seek help:

http://www.rapecrisishelp.ie/

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