Tweeting about Consent for #Sexual Assault Awareness Month

Hey folks! April was Sexual Assault Awareness Month (#SAAM). Early on in April I decided to raise awareness about sexual assault by focusing on key messages about CONSENT on Twitter. For anyone looking for a summary, or who isn’t on Twitter, here are my April #SAAM tweets:

In response to the overwhelming media coverage of rape, it’s time to talk about consent

Lately it seems as though every other news article, radio show, tweet, or blog post is about rape or sexual assault. Steubenville, Delhi, Rio de Janeiro, Halifax, Saratoga– it is clearly an international problem (and those are just five examples), and this important issue has gotten an overwhelming amount of media coverage recently. I have done a lot of work in violence prevention, and it can be challenging to hear story after story about serious violations and despicable acts of sexual assault. The increased media attention can push this issue to the forefront of policymakers agendas and inspire effective educational campaigns, but it can also be confusing and draining for young people to absorb. (I mean, it’s tough for even the most experienced professionals.) A parent recently asked me…

There’s so much going on about rape in the news these days, what can I say to my teens?

This is a very important question, that many may be overlooking. As much as we may want to shield our young people from the horrors of life, they will undoubtedly be exposed to something about rape these days. We need to see this overwhelming attention to rape as teachable moment to discuss ways to prevent sexual assault and encourage young people to gain and seek consent as a strategy to prevent sexual assault and rape. It’s a way to tell people what they should be doing, instead what they should be avoiding.Java Printing

Adults need to engage in critical dialogue with the young people in their lives about what it means to seek and give consent. Parents, teachers, family members, faith leaders, etc can all take a moment to reflect on all of these cases in intentional conversations. Ask what they have heard/seen about the various cases being covered, and what their peers are saying about how teens have reacted. Here are a few suggestions for key messages to focus on and conversation starters:

  • Consent is when one person gives permission to engage in a particular activity. How do you think consent can help in a relationship?
  • Always gain consent for any physical interaction. How do you know if consent has been given?
  • Give consent in clear ways. What’s an example of giving consent?
  • Respect the boundaries that other people establish. What is a boundary, and how can a boundary help someone feel safe?
  • Accept no for an answer. What can you do if someone says no? What might happen if someone does not respect another person’s no?
  • If you are unsure whether or not consent has been given, stop and ask. How might you ask someone if they have consented?
  • Sometimes a person is unable to give consent, like when they are unconscious, intoxicated, or under a certain age. How would you know if a person is unable to give consent?
  • If someone engages in sexual activity with someone who has not consented, that is considered sexual assault, or rape. Sex without consent is not OK! How can you help create a social community that is respectful and honors everyone’s right to consent?
  • Someone who has experienced sexual assault needs support and understanding. What could you do if you know someone who has been hurt?
  • Social media outlets such as Facebook and Twitter should be used carefully and conscientiously. How might Facebook or Twitter be a negative influence on teens’ attitudes about rape? How could they be used to bully another person after they have been sexually assaulted? How might social media be used in a good way?
  • Be a role model for others. How can you help your peers understand consent?

A few other posts and responses to the recent flurry of media about rape have stood out to me as great resources for helping young people understand this issue:

Laurie Halse Anderson: Another Hard Thing About Being a Parent

Huffington Post: A Letter to My Sons About Stopping Rape

The Good Men Project: The Healthy Sex Talk: Teaching Kids Consent, Ages 1-21.

King County Sexual Assault Resource Center, 100 Conversations: Conversations about Consent

And there is a whole bunch more out there too. The point is, do something, say something, and make it stick. Be consistent in your messaging, and the youth around you will learn consent from you.

Friday FREAK OUT! Nice-Guy-Gate

[TRIGGER WARNING for the topic of rape]

In the last few weeks in the feminist blogosphere a HEATED debate has emerged that started with an article posted on the Good Men Project titled, Nice Guys Commit Rape Too, written by Alyssa Royse.  This article tells the story of a ‘nice guy’ that commits an act of rape, and the author seeks to explore why/how it happened: “In order to get to that answer we need to first abolish the idea that all rape is about power and violence. It’s not. Some rape begins as the earnest belief that sex is going to happen, and that it should. The confusion starts with misreading socially accepted cues.”

In the aftermath of this article’s publication, there has ensued a series of responses, rebuttals, and other public outrage via social media.  Here is a sample of what you can find if you jump down the rabbit-hole of ‘nice-guy-gate’, in approximate chronological order:

11/30/12 Good Men Project: Nice Guys Commit Rape Too, by Alyssa Royse – the article that started it all.

12/1/12 Good Men Project: Nice Guys Commit Rape Too, A Response, by Matthew Salesses.

12/8/12 Feministe: What in holy hell is this, by Jill Filipovic.

12/10/12 Good Men Project: I’d Rather Risk Rape than Quit Partying, by ANONYMOUS. [this is the story of a self-identified rapist]

12/10/12 Feministe: And just when you thought the Good Men Project couldn’t get any worse, by Jill Filipovic.

12/10/12 Good Men Project: This is Why We Published a Rapist’s Story, by Joanna Schroeder.

12/10/12 The Soapbox: On Nice Guys as Rapists, by Amelia McDonnell Perry.

12/11/12 Why did the Good Men Project publish a blog by an unrepentant and unconvicted rapist? by Ally Fogg.

12/18/12 Why the ‘nice guys commit rape too’ conversation is not helpful, by Jill Filipovic.

12/??/12 Why I Left the GMP, by Ozy Frantz.

12/20/2012 Rapists Say They Rape Because of Mixed Signals and the Good Men Project Believes Them, by Amanda Marcotte.

Wow, there is a lot being said, and people are surely freakin out about it.  Myself included.  I have really struggled to wrap my head around all of the points being made, and how to frame this debate in a productive manner for myself.

One thing that I am reminded about as I have been digesting the myriad of viewpoints is that consent is an essential topic to cover in sexuality education.  Because it’s not enough just to tell someone, “don’t rape”.  As sexuality educators, we MUST teach participants…

  • What is consent?
  • What do you need consent for?
  • How is consent communicated?
  • How do you know if consent is given?
  • How do you know if consent is not given?
  • How do non-verbal cues affect the understanding of consent?
  • When is someone unable to give consent?

And I’m just getting started!  This is a challenging concept to both teach, and to learn.  As ‘students’, we learn different things about consent from our teachers, peers, the media, parents, religion, etc., and we rarely have an opportunity to truly examine and explore all of the nuances of communicating about consent in real life situations.  Sexuality education should be an opportunity for individuals to learn how to make healthy decisions about sexual activity that are 100% consensual.  (Stay tuned for a more in-depth post on consent in the future.)

I encourage sexuality educators to critically examine all sides of ‘nice-guy-gate’ in order to understand the scope of this controversy. It is also critical that we all send a clear message about the importance of consent, because surely we could all learn about bit more about it.

Friday FREAK OUT! Yet another rape comment

Is it really a surprise that yet another Republican candidate has made an outrageous comment about rape?  This week Richard Mourdock, a candidate for the Indiana Senate and endorsed by presidential candidate Mitt Romney, said, “even when life begins in that horrible situation of rape, that is something that God intended to happen.” Also note that while Romney said he disagrees with Mourdock on this issue, he still supports him.

Stephen Colbert’s Team RAPE

The string of comments from republicans this election season has received overwhelming attention from the media, including John Stewart and Stephen Colbert, who offers a summary of comments from the GOP and rounds them up as Team Rape.

Sexuality educators! PLEASE use this opportunity to discuss the topic of sexual assault and sexual violence with your participants.  While we may be laughing at the extreme comments made, especially the recurrence of them, rape is no laughing matter.  Use the commentary to engage in thoughtful conversations about why the comments being made are so extreme, and how they can formulate their own opinions about reproductive choice.

Here are some points to make:

  • No one deserves to be sexually assaulted in any way.
  • Consent is paramount when engaging in sexual activity with another person.
  • Rape and sexual assault are against the law.
  • You have the right to make choices about your own body.
  • Everyone deserves to have healthy sexual activity that is completely safe and consensual.

Also see my related post about Todd Akin’s comment on legitimate rape.




Friday FREAK OUT! Legitimate rape

On Sunday, August 19, Representative Todd Akin of Missouri made a statement during an interview on the Jaco Report on Fox 2 that outraged Democrats and Republicans alike. When asked about his position on abortion in cases of rape, he replied:

“It seems to be, first of all, from what I understand from doctors, it’s really rare. If it’s a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut the whole thing down.”

Presidential candidate Mitt Romney even denounced Akin’s statement, twice!

And rightly so. This is one story that we should be freaking out about. The media frenzy surrounding Akin’s statement and even the aftermath of apologies and calls to quit the race have created a forum of dialogue about a sensitive topic. We are looking at the facts of rape, which is about control and power, facts that Akin clearly does not understand. Twitter feeds have exploded with comments about not just rape, but sexual coercion and even sleazy partners.

@ieatmykidzsnack: So a woman’s body can block “rape semen?” Don’t you think we’d be able to block “never gonna call again semen” & “no good loser semen” too?

The fact is that Akin is wrong- women do not have a magical power to dispel the semen of a rapist. And now anyone paying any attention to the news this week hopefully also knows that, thanks to this outrageous, absurd statement!!

Sexuality educators can use media frenzies like this one to talk about how people learn, and unlearn, myths about rape, and please be sure to set the record straight with your participants! Penile-vaginal penetration by ANY penis (even a rapists’) without using a barrier method or contraception can result in pregnancy. It doesn’t always, but it can.

For a great, concise summary of the statements/events related to Akin’s statement, check out this NY Times article.