If you are at the Yukon music festivals this summer and you come across some friendly volunteers handing out buttons and condoms, stop and talk to them. Those volunteers are part of a consent crew whose role is to get people reflecting on and talking about consent.
The consent campaign aims to reduce the incidence of sexualized assaults by getting people to consistently ask for consent before engaging in any sexual activity.
For many people, the idea of asking for consent appears awkward and unusual. The consent crew challenges the belief that if you stop to ask if it is OK to kiss someone that it will somehow ruin the mood. Instead, we propose that asking for consent can be fun and sexy, but most importantly, it shows you respect your partner and that you don’t want to do something that would upset them or leave them feeling violated.
In most sexual interactions we rely on body language and non-verbal cues to determine whether or not to make a move. Although there is nothing wrong with this form of communication, body language can often be misinterpreted or misunderstood. For example, flirting might mean that he or she likes the attention, but isn’t interested in having sex. Or it could also be how that person interacts and they aren’t aware that their friendliness is being mistaken for an invitation to sex.
The consent crew tries to get people to reflect on some of the more grey areas of consent. Through games and scenarios, they raise questions such as: when two people have been drinking, whose responsibility is it to get consent? And just how drunk does someone have to be before they are no longer able to give consent?
We’ve all seen situations, for example, where a guy buys a woman drinks at the bar then leaves with her at the end of the night. It is such a common scene that most people probably wouldn’t think twice about it. If the people involved were strangers, someone might reason that maybe they were a couple; maybe she knew the guy; or maybe she wanted to leave with him. But what if the woman was your friend, would you react differently? Or what if the man was your friend? Is it still called “cock-blocking” if you intervene to stop someone from potentially committing rape?
The scenarios used in the consent campaign try to address assumptions that women “owe” men sex or that men have the “right” to women’s bodies. They equally aim to challenge attitudes that blame victims for the way they dress, how much they flirt, how much they’ve had to drink or their previous sexual history.
The slogan of the campaign “Are you asking for it?” makes the dual claim that no one ever asks to be raped and it is the responsibility of the person seeking sexual interaction to ask for consent.
Practising consent means communicating clearly with your partner and respecting both your and their boundaries and right to say no. Consent is about more than just “not raping someone” – it involves creating healthy and positive relationships that are built on open communication, honesty and respect. Asking and getting to know what your partner is into and what they like shows you respect and care about that person but can also be fun and exciting.
So, next time, make sure you ask for it and get consent.
Natasha Harvey the project
co-ordinator for Les EssentiElles.