Consent 101

[TW: sexual assault, coercion and psychological abuse]

This post was inspired by accounts of sexual assault and abuse by ex-partners of famous YouTubers. Once the first complaint came out, many other girls reported similarly traumatizing experiences with these men. The most shocking accounts (to me) were that of the abuse of Tom Milson towards a 15 year old girl when he was 22 (a horrifying personal account of these events can be found here) and the rampant sexual and emotional manipulation of Alex Day which has been reported by five women so far (one / two / three / four / five). Although Alex Day has admitted to how much of an abusive, manipulative, objectifying person he is, he has not admitted to any sexual abuse/manipulation that led to sexual assault and actions that led to traumatic sexual experiences for his partners.

Although Tom Milsom’s relationship with a minor who is not old enough to consent is shocking, I feel that Day’s actions are equally, if not more, worrying, considering the amount of women who have written accounts of his behaviour and the type of concealed abuse and sexual coercion that is widely accepted in society. This behaviour is a common one, where men feel entitled to sex with a woman and assume sexual interest because of the woman’s previous interactions, behaviour and other factors. It could be true that in Alex’s mind he simply assumed, because he is a famous YouTube star who is often fawned over, every girl ever would want to sleep with him.

The line ‘Can we skip the bit where you say no before anything happens?’ was reportedly regularly used by him. He has written a response denying allegations however it is my opinion that he does not understand what consent is, how sexual politics should work in a landscape where both sexes are equal, and that his fame, gender and (supposed) good looks do not entitle him to anything.

This is what led me to write a handy guide to sexual consent and inter-partner communication. Feel free to comment and suggest additions to the post. I sincerely hope this post reaches the YouTube community, most importantly young women who are only just entering into their sexual lives. I was once a young(er) woman who let myself be led on, feel guilty for not engaging in sexual activity and give in when I wasn’t ready or up to it.

I also hope Alex Day reads this and further questions his own behaviour so that this does not happen with any other girl that happens to be around him.

What sexual consent is

– The enthusiastic, preferably verbal, manifestation of “Yes, I accept this sexual act”. However, consent can also be given by body language – if the person is kissing enthusiastically one could assume they want sexual contact. However, to avoid misunderstandings it is always recommended that you (a) Ask if they are OK to continue (b) Pay close attention to their body language and do not ignore the signs they are giving you because you really want to get laid and they are not explicitly saying no.

– A retractable factor of a sexual relationship. Once given, it can be taken away whenever the person feels uncomfortable with the act they are performing. A “NO” in the middle of an act that was previously consensual should result in the end of the sexual act. If the other party does not stop, this is sexual assault.

What sexual consent is not:

– The absence of a “no”. Consent is only clearly given when both parties enthusiastically want to have sex. If your partner is visibly giving in to you because they feel guilty or pressured this is sexual assault and you are, in the least, a huge jerk. At the most, you’re an abuser.

– A person who is drunk saying yes. If a person is very inebriated they are not able to consent.

– A relationship between a person under the age of consent with an older person  who is above the age of consent. People under the age of consent (children) are not able to give consent because they are susceptible to manipulation and grooming.

– A person who is passed out/asleep/incoherently inebriated cannot give consent. If a person is touched sexually while unconscious they are being sexually assaulted. Even if someone is on the couch, passed out, with their legs splayed open this is not an invitation. The only invitation that allows furthering sexual relations is an explicit one from a conscious person who is able to give consent.

– The assumption that a person wants sexual contact despite repeated rejections because of previous interactions between the two parties. Previous actions done by survivors that are typically used to victim blame: (a) flirting, (b) the fact you are in a relationship, (c) ‘provocative’ clothes, (d) making out a few minutes ago (a YES is always retractable) (e) gossip that calls your partner a ‘whore/slut/hoe’ or any bullsh*t names of the sort. What matters is the person’s wants at that moment and time, nothing that happened previously counts as a reason to force sexual intercourse.

Do not

– Insist on a sexual act after you are rejected. More often than not they are not playing hard to get. Respect their abilities as a human being to make mature, thought out decisions that do not benefit your wants for sexual contact. The world doesn’t revolve around you and not everyone wants to sleep with you.

– Assume anyone owes you sex because you paid for dinner, bought them a drink, gave them flowers, made a huge romantic gesture, etc, etc.

– Think you are entitled to sex in ANY WAY. Nobody owes you anything regardless of gender identity, race, sexual orientation and previous behaviours.

– Push your partner toward your crotch. Ask them. And respect them if the answer is no.

Do

– Ask if your partner is OK to proceed.

– Be aware of and try to read body language.  Many times people feel uncomfortable and guilty about stopping sexual contact because of previous ‘promises’, acts, behaviour and the belief that one party (mostly heterosexual women in relation to men, due to the patriarchal, sexist society we live in) owe their partner sex.

– Talk to your partner even if it is a one night stand. Always ask if a particular sexual act is acceptable. Do not, under any circumstance, spring a sexual act on them – communication is key. Communication is the only way to make sure both parties are protected from sexual abuse/coercion/manipulation.

Statistics & facts

According to RAINN (Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network):

Every 2 minutes, another American is sexually assaulted. (…) According to the U.S. Department of Justice’s National Crime Victimization Survey –there is an average of 237,868 victims (age 12 or older) of rape and sexual assault each year.

On the reality of who rapists actually are (not a man in a dark alley way):

Approximately 2/3 of rapes were committed by someone known to the victim.1
73% of sexual assaults were perpetrated by a non-stranger.1
38% of rapists are a friend or acquaintance.1
28% are an intimate.1
7% are a relative (source)

On harassment:

“31% of female employees report being harassed at work.

70-90% of harassers repeat their conduct.

About 15,000 sexual harassment cases are brought to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission each year.

According to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, the number of sexual harassment complaints filed by men has more than tripled in recent years. (source)”

On sexual coercion:

Verbal Sexual Coercion: often words are used by someone using sexual coercion in an attempt to achieve sexual relations out of someone who has previously said no to sexual advances. The words that are used may be flattering, outright begging, calling names, arguing, lying or deliberately misleading. Examples of verbal sexual coercion may include the following: (a) “You know you want it.” (b) “I’m so hot for you.” (c) “Don’t make me stop now.” (d) “Don’t be a prude.”

Emotional Sexual Coercion: In this type of sexual coercion, a person takes advantage of trust, intimacy, or emotional instability to garner sexual favors. Emotional sexual coercion may include the following: (a) Exploitation of emotions of the other person, (a) Using emotional pressure, (c) Threatening that if sexual encounters do not occur, the friendship will be lost. (d) Using guilt for not being involved in a sexual activity, (e) Wearing one down through constant, emotional-laden phrases, (f) Saying things like, “If I don’t get sex from you, I’ll find it elsewhere.”, (g) Saying things like, “If you LOVE me, you’ll have sex with me.”, (h) Saying things like, “You’re not a virgin – why not have sex with me?” (I recommend you read this page thoroughly as it is an excellent definition of sexual coercion)

I hope this post has clears up any doubts about consent. In our present society sexism, rape culture, male entitlement and misogyny often interfere in sexual relationships that should be built on a landscape where both genders are 100% equal.

As to men who act like Alex Day has reportedly acted, I hope this post has educated you. I like to believe that all humans are capable of changing and acting in good faith. However if you have acted this way in the past do not expect forgiveness or sympathy from anyone. Even if you were previously uneducated about the above mandatory consent etiquette, you were still a jerk in the past and probably traumatized someone who trusted you with sexual intimacy.

And to all victims/survivors who have reported this kind of abuse, stay brave and thank you.

UPDATE(14/03/2014):

my response to an ‘admission’ of guilt from Alex Day
ways Alex Day ignored ‘NO’

If you have been sexually assaulted please contact RAINN for help and guidance.

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8 thoughts on “Consent 101”

  1. I’d like to clarify one thing (great post btw) about the age of consent.

    In many places there are close-in-age exemptions, so that magical age of consent isn’t necessarily a hard line.

    For example, in Canada (Criminal law is exclusively in the federal jurisdiction in Canada) the age of consent is 16 (with three exceptions) but someone who is 12 or 13 can consent with someone less than two years their senior, and someone 14 or 15 can consent with someone less than 5 years their senior.

    I don’t know if that was a purposeful omission to keep from confusing things, but I figured I’d point it out.

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