Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Moving from "Anti-Rape" to "Pro-Consent"

Lot's of people who, according to legal or social definitions, have been raped don't call themselves rape survivors. In my years as an anti-rape activist I've heard more stories of this nature than I can count. And this used to frustrate me. The way I a saw it, every person who refused to call rape "rape," held back those who called it by name (and arguably, when you're within the "anti-rape" movement, that is the case).

But I see things differently now. I think individuals can and should define their own experiences. If you don't feel comfortable calling what happened to you "rape," by all means, don't! I can name about a million reasons not to, after all: it's painful, you're likely to not be believed, friends/family/legal & medical staff may blame you, if you were engaged in any sexual activity prior to the assault (especially if you identify as a woman) you may be disregarded as a "slut," "whore," or as "asking for it" -- just to name a few. Not to mention that plenty of people experience what's legally defined as rape without feeling traumatized by it.

I'm not trying to dissuade folks from coming out as survivors. If you want to come out, kudos to you! That is some brave shit!! But I'd like to call attention to the problematic nature of hinging a movement on individuals' ability to call an experience "rape" in a culture that tells survivors that it was merely "bad sex" and that if is was indeed rape, it was probably the victim's fault (their sexual history, dress and/or level of intoxication will likely be looked to as explanations).

We need a paradigm shift.

Let's start by finding some common ground:
Can we all agree that you should only engage in sexual activity with someone who wants to engage in that activity with you?


Okay, good. (Phew).

If you're in agreement then you are in favor of consent. And if you're in favor of consent calling yourself part of the "pro-consent" movement shouldn't be too much of a stretch. Using the language "pro-consent" doesn't necessitate survivors to come forward. All it asks is for you to have consensual sexual experiences. Period. And who doesn't want to do that?! One of my favorite Sexual Violence Prevention researchers Paul Schewe has wisely pointed out, if you engage in consensual sexual practices you'll likely have "more sex," and "better sex." Amen, brother!

Call your experiences whatever you like, but please know that not saying "no" is not the same as saying "yes." When it comes to our bodies and sexuality we have the right to be heard and respected. American culture does not support open communication about sex and sexuality so it's likely you haven't practiced enthusiastic consent in the past. But it's easy to start: if you're not sure if you have consent, just ask! (Thank you Jaclyn Friedman). By engaging in enthusiastic consent that is active, ongoing and mutual you are doing your part to end sexual violence and probably having a great time while you're at it! Everybody wins -- what's not to love!?

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