The Importance of Affirmative Consent

(From The Campus Lantern – March 5, 2015)

Last week there was a public hearing surrounding Senate Bill 636, an Act Concerning Affirmative Consent.  The bill would require colleges and universities to include affirmative consent in their sexual assault, stalking, and intimate partner violence policies.  Affirmative consent is the conscious and voluntary agreement to engage in sexual activity, and should be a key element in determining whether sexual activity was consensual.

We live in a society in which victims in sexual assault cases are typically blamed for the violence that is acted upon them by perpetrators.  In instances of assault, we ask first, “What was she wearing?”  We ask, “Was she drunk?”  We ask, “Did she say no?”  It should not matter if the victim was wearing sweatpants or a mini-skirt.  It should not matter if she was sober or if she had a few drinks.  It should not matter if she was silent or if she failed to protest the attack.  The fact of the matter should be that if affirmative consent was not given, then the relations were not mutual and it was clearly an instance of assault.

Some people might be concerned about the drawbacks of asking for consent in a relationship.  I’ve had friends suggest that it might be awkward for them to ask their partner to clearly state their consent during sex.  They complain, “But Mae, won’t that ruin the mood?”  My response is always the same: No, affirmative consent will not ruin the mood.  Sexual assault will, however, ruin the life of the victim and sometimes of the perpetrator.  What affirmative consent will do is clear the blurred lines between consensual relations and assault.

As a college student, I’ve heard horror stories of women’s reputations being scorned for what has happened to them at parties.  I’ve had friends come to me, crying, because they weren’t sure if it was their fault that they were assaulted because they didn’t know how to react when the assault was happening.  The victim should never think it is their fault that they were assaulted.  The conversation around assault needs to change from what the victim did wrong, to instead focus on the detrimental actions of the perpetrator.  Establishing an affirmative consent policy helps to shift the focus of the investigation to the perpetrator’s behavior and away from questioning what the victim did to say no.

It is my belief that affirmative consent will provide students with safer, more supportive college campuses.  The lines between what is wrong and right will no longer be blurred.  In terms of consent, Connecticut should abide by the affirmative “yes means yes,” instead of the ambiguous “no means no.”

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Sexual Assault and Mental Health on College Campuses

(From The Campus Lantern – January 30, 2014)

A video was recently posted on ESPN telling a heart-wrenching story of a college athlete who was mistreated by her school. Sasha Menu Courey was just starting her career at the University of Missouri (MU); she had always loved swimming and got a scholarship to be on the swim team. Sasha had suffered from “major depressive disorder” for some time. However, when she was allegedly raped by an MU football player, another mental disorder, “borderline personality disorder,” was triggered within Sasha. By this time, she was going to counseling, but was still suffering from suicidal thoughts and tendencies.

In the video, it is very unclear why both the swim team coach and the school officials handled the situation the way they did. The coach dismissed Sasha off of the swim team, claiming that it was because she had hurt her back and that it had nothing to do with her mental instability. Also, a school official came to her hospital room and personally handed her papers of withdrawal from the university. They later claimed that it did not have to be permanent, that she could have come back – but if someone is not in their full mental state, being kicked off of a sports team, let alone being dismissed from a college, can feel like the end of the world.

These events led to Sasha overdosing on 100 Tylenol pills in 2011 and she was declared dead at the young age of 20.

Sexual assault is an ongoing problem on college campuses. The Associated Press (AP) has shared a report by the White House Council on Women and Girls that states that “[n]early 22 million American women and 1.6 million men have been raped in their lifetimes.” That same report also states that “7 percent of college men admitted to attempting rape, and 63 percent of those men admitted to multiple offenses, averaging six rapes each.” AP also states that a recent White House report verifies that “1 in 5 female students [are] assaulted while only 1 in 8 student victims report it.”

Any gender can be susceptible to rape, but the numbers that represent how it affects women can be overwhelming and quite terrifying. President Obama is targeting this sexual assault epidemic. According to AP, he has recently “signed a memorandum creating a task force to respond to campus rapes.” One main goal of this memorandum is to make guidelines for reporting sexual assaults stricter for campuses, and therefore, increase awareness of the issue.

It is important to talk about tough issues such as sexual assault and mental health. These are real problems affecting real people – most likely, some even on Eastern’s campus. Eastern has a Sexual Assault Response Team (SART) on campus available for student to talk about such issues. Through SART, Eastern has taken great strides in addressing issues of sexual violence and all forms of interpersonal violence. If you need to contact SART, or if you are interested in learning more about the team, contact Starsheemar Byrum at byrums@easternct.edu or (860) 465-4314. We need to speak up; that is the first step in sparking a change.