When it comes to sexual interactions, it seems like the notion of consent should be pretty simple — yes means yes, no means no, easy peasy, right? Except obviously it’s not that simple for a disturbingly large number of people, which begs the question how have we gotten it so wrong as a society that this is not clearly communicated to everyone?
In a profoundly disturbing result, a 2018 survey found that only 28% of Canadians have a clear understanding of how consent is given. The Canadian Women’s Foundation explains that consent needs to be explicit, enthusiastic, and ongoing, and it may be withdrawn at any time. They have found that 20% of Canadian between age 18 and 34 believe that sending explicit images automatically and always means that she is consent to sex. Ten percent of Canadians don’t believe that consent is needed for sexual activity within long-term relationships.
It seems like there are endless examples of law enforcement and the justice system assuming that consent is given until it is somehow proven otherwise. It’s an odd way of looking at the matter. It’s like my vagina is permanently open for business unless I have a signed agreement that I wanted to close up shop. It would be laughable if it wasn’t so disgusting.
In 2015, Stanford University student Brock Turner sexually assault an intoxicated, unconscious woman. He was found guilty on several charges, including penetration of an unconscious person, but he was only sentenced to six months in jail, of which he actually served three months. Why? Because a drunken and passed out woman has an “I consent” stamp on her vagina? Turner and his lawyers had the gall to file an appeal, but in some display of sanity the appeal was rejected by a higher court.
In a 2016 attack in Spain, a teenage woman was raped by a group of five men, who recorded the attack on their cell phones. The defense argued it was consensual, and the court found the men guilty of the lesser charge of sexual abuse rather than rape. This implies that consent exists until proven otherwise. I’m really not sure how lawyers can live with themselves after pulling that kind of crap. The public outcry led to legislative changes in 2018, with the Spanish prime minister announcing “If they say ‘no’ it means ‘no,’ and if they don’t say ‘yes,’ it means no” (Global Citizen).
There was public outcry when Canadian former judge Robin Camp repeatedly asked the victim in a sexual assault case why she didn’t do more to demonstrate lack of consent, such as keeping her knees together. Why, because if a woman’s knees aren’t glued shut there’s automatically that good old “I consent” stamp on her vagina? Yet he didn’t think to ask why the defendant didn’t do more to stop himself from stabbing her with his penis. Mr. Camp was removed from the bench as a result, but unfortunately the law society in his province saw fit to allow him to continue to practice as a lawyer.
I recently read about a woman in the city where I live who was sexually assaulted while attending a school dance as a teen. She was assaulted inside a bathroom stall, and was left with significant injuries requiring surgery. Defense lawyers argued in court that the sex was consensual, as though anyone ever consents to having their vagina torn open. While the perpetrator was convicted, the judge thought he was a low risk to reoffend and was concerned about all that he was missing out on and only handed him 2 weeks of jail time. The concern is what he is missing out on? Please.
In Canada, rape-shield laws are supposed to prevent victims’ sexual histories from being used against them as supposed evidence to show that they consented to the alleged attacks. In practice, this is a lot more iffy. It’s disturbing to think that some people think that consent is implied because of past activity. Consent is needed for every single sexual encounter. How is that so hard for some people to grasp?
Why is something that should be so simple instead be so lacking in clarity? There is no consent unless it is clearly given, each and every time. Anyone who has problems understanding that needs to keep their pants on.
Originally published at mentalhealthathome.org on April 9, 2019.