Affirmative Consent – A Way to Debunk the ‘Miscommunication’ Rape Myth?

These thoughts come as a result of a few different blog posts from this week that I got to read. First was at Yes Means Yes blog – an explanation of how there can be an affirmative consent standard in the legal system.Then I read The Sexist’s recap of a study showing that “Rape Isn’t One Big Misunderstanding” showing that some college men showed that they were well aware of the various ways women (and themselves!) show they won’t consent to sex. And finally, I read the heartbreaking, yet familiar (and triggering) account of a young student raped at Indiana University.

While the Indiana account was very familiar – an outline of a very common scenario of a survivor struggling with the aftermath of rape on campus, the first two posts highlight very different and relatively new conversations surrounding rape. The study referenced in The Sexist’s blog showed that male students, too, would try to use subtle cues (basically do anything but flatout say ‘no’) to tell someone else they did not want to have sex with them. They also admitted to being able to tell when a girl is in a situation where she does not want to have sex and quickly shuts down, but does not say no. Unfortunately, once the moderator brought up issues of sex the male students were quick to say that “no doesn’t always mean no,” but since ‘girls are being girls’ (as much as I wince to say that cliche) they must use clear physical AND verbal cues to show that they don’t want to consent. Even though when THEY don’t want to consent it’s okay for them to not be straightforward.

I’ve noticed that administrators like to use the excuse that it was just “a miscommunication” when a student files a rape complaint against a student…especially one that that particular person has worked with and likes the student in the past. Perhaps now that Thomas wrote that an affirmative consent model could have many benefits (including increasing the rates people are convicted of ‘acquaintance rape,’ which would foster an environment that would make it harder for rapists to thrive) more schools can follow suit. I think it could directly address the amount of times that rape apologists say “well they didn’t say ‘no’” or point to one’s clothing or behavior as an evidence of consent. If it is REQUIRED for both people to say YES – to show their consent – rather than placing the burden of a potential victim to say no by not only saying  no verbally, but by wearing certain clothing, avoiding certain places, and not doing certain things, I think this miscommunication excuse can be diminished.

Clearly we have a long way to go because even when the student in the Indiana University story CLEARLY did not consent (she was sober, too) student commenters still felt like they should blame and shame her for getting raped – apparently screaming and physical resistance and saying “no” is not enough, even though the male students in the study said it would be.

The comments can be triggering for victim blaming, but I like what the most recent comment by musician1 said:

I think that the comments on this story should be deleted. Being a victim of a sexual assault I am deeply offended by the lack of tact and the hostile tone of many of these comments. Let me assure you, sexual assault is never a woman’s fault and this story gave silent voices a chance to be heard. How dare you judge women whom have gone through so much trauma and I am outraged by the deplorable comments on this thread. I ask the editor to please delete this comment and further the previous comments left by misinformed students.

And by this commenter bravely speaking out as a survivor and calling the victim blaming rape apologists “misinformed” I think that this highlights how education is so important. If students are properly educated, I think the environment would be a lot on college campuses for students who want to report rape.

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