5 Steps for Building Consent Culture
Trigger Warning: Sexual Assault
By: Lauren MacDonald
Consent. Whether it is sharing a photo of your friend on social media, using someone else’s belongings, or in a sexual setting, we all seek consent numerous times per day. The concept of consent should be simple; you ask, and then respect and abide by the answer you are given. However, people often stretch the true meaning of asking for permission and paint the topic as a grey area, when really, consent is black or white. When someone says no, that does not translate to “convince me”.
Through a compassionate and empathetic lens, the purpose of consent or permission is to ensure the comfort of those involved and to never inflict harm, rather than viewing consent as an obligation. Kind people strive to put others in kind situations.
While consent is a broad term and is widely used amidst various conversations and issues, my specific focus is to shed light on the importance of building and fostering a consent culture in terms of sexual consent.
Consent culture is a custom that normalizes asking others for their consent, acknowledging their response, refraining from trying to persuade them into an ulterior conclusion, and respecting others throughout the entirety of this process. To most, I hope that the idea of consent culture is simple and a “given” societal norm, as from the time we were toddlers we have been asking for permission. However, for those who fail to understand the dire need for consent, specifically in the most vulnerable situations, the repercussions are beyond words.
Building consent culture is a process, as the topic can be viewed as a touchy subject. However, the most important things are often the hardest to say, and the most difficult or “awkward” conversations lead to the most productive forms of growth. When delving into the issue of sexual assault, statistics are terrifying.
For American women, 1 in 6 individuals will be a victim of attempted or completed rape in their lifetime (Victims of Sexual Violence: Statistics). Further, 90% of adult rape victims are female, though this is not solely a woman’s issue, this is a deeply rooted issue embedded within society and affects people of all genders (Victims of Sexual Violence: Statistics).
Not only are men also victims of assault, but these issues disproportionately affect their female loved ones as well. With these nuances, people of all kinds should care about consent culture, the functioning of our society depends on it.
I have far from all of the answers, however, as a passionate person with some training in this area, I have compiled some steps that act as “building blocks” towards a solid foundation for a prosperous consent culture.
1. Practice the Art of Listening
With such a complex issue, there is always so much to learn. Listen to others when they are speaking about this topic, as your newfound knowledge could greatly impact someone’s life. Be open to having these conversations with others, to generate ideas on how to be a supportive friend or sexual partner. To listen, is to learn; capitalize on opportunities to educate yourself on issues that affect all types of people, you will be a more empathetic person as a result.
2. Educate Yourself
Take a moment and think, if you were placed in a room with the role to explain consent to a group of people, could you? Consent is an important and sometimes complicated topic, so read articles and gather resources. While you’re here let’s cover some basics of consent.
● NO means NO ● Solely because you have been with a certain person before, does not give you the right to expect sexual favours in the future. ● Consent is highly specific. Saying yes to one thing, does not imply that a yes will be given to further/alternate acts. ● Consent must be “freely given”. Consent following any amount of persuasion is coercion. ● Even though you may be dating someone, consent is still just as important as ever. To strive towards a healthy consent culture, we must all first understand what consent truly means, and always vow to promote open communication.
3. Utilize Empathy Sexual assault is one of the most horrific things that could happen to someone. No matter how many articles you read, people you talk to, or situations you endure I truly do not think that you can understand the severity of the repercussions if you have not experienced this yourself. When normalizing consent-oriented conversations, we must also normalize conversations that involve individuals coming forward. If you find yourself in a situation where someone is opening up about something that happened to them, listen with open ears, an open mind, and most importantly an open heart.
Empathy is not trying to find the silver lining, it is certainly not saying “everything happens for a reason” and in these vulnerable situations it is not often comparing situations. Empathy is saying “I hear you, I believe you and you can trust me”. 90% of empathy is listening and trying to put yourself in that situation - how would you feel?
4. Ask Questions
More is better when it comes to asking questions regarding this topic. If you are ever unsure of how you can positively contribute to building consent culture, or you are unsure of something regarding consent, ASK! While these conversations may seem awkward at first, they are necessary. The more we talk about consent, the easier it will be.
5. Use your Voice To instill consent culture into society, there is power in numbers. More conversations, questions, and desire to challenge patriarchal ideas will result in greater awareness and engagement levels. Use your voice to advocate and educate others, and if they hesitate to show their willingness to listen, carefully explain the severity of the issue and why they should care.
Performative activism is a common term recently amidst social media, and while spreading awareness via an Instagram story is adding to the conversation, be sure to THOROUGHLY research any statistics or information you are sharing. Further, be sure that the post truly helps the cause.
Lastly, call out your friends. Not only are “rape jokes” not funny, but they are incredibly triggering. You never know who is in a room, and the entirety of their experiences. If you hear conversations that could be upsetting, respectfully explain why that should not be tolerated. I promise you, the unsolicited laugh that your “humour” may generate, will never compensate for the damage your words could place on a survivor. Words hold so much power, and I hope you choose to use yours in a kind manner.
Thank you for reading.
If you, or a friend have endured any form of sexual assault, there are resources available to you. You are strong, and your experience is valid, yet it does not define you. Please seek help or guidance from the available resources should you wish.
Below is a list of valuable resources provided by Queen’s University, please visit the “resource” page on https://www.qwil.ca/resources for an additional, more in depth “Sexual Violence Resource Guide”.
“We hear you. We Believe you. We stand with you”.
Queen’s Sexual Violence Prevention and Response Coordinator- Barb Lotan ( firstname.lastname@example.org) ● Monday through Friday
EMPOWER ME 24/7 Helpline (1-844-741-6389)
Good2Talk 24/7/365 (1-866-925-5454)
Emergency Response Resources:
Queen’s Emergency Report Centre (613-533-6111) ● Use for “on-campus emergency response”
Kingston General Hospital 24/7 Sexual Assault/ Domestic Violence Program (613-549-6666 ext 4880)
● Ask for the SA/DV nurse
Sexual Assault Centre Kingston 24/7 crisis and support line (613-544-6424)
Victims of Sexual Violence: Statistics. RAINN. (n.d.). https://www.rainn.org/statistics/victims-sexual-violence.
Queen's Sexual Violence Prevention & Response. Home | Queen's Sexual Violence Prevention & Response. (n.d.). https://www.queensu.ca/sexualviolencesupport/home.
About the Author
Lauren is going into her Second Year of Commerce at Queen’s University. She is one of the First-Year Membership Coordinators at QWIL and is interested in politics, law, and sustainability initiatives. Lauren loves hiking, spending time with friends, and reading/writing poetry.