As the staff at the KCAVP has considered how best to recognize April as Sexual Assault Awareness Month, we have been talking a lot about consent. These discussions keep bringing us back to one important question: How can talking about consent affect our efforts to prevent and respond to sexual violence in the LGBTQ community?
It seems obvious, right? If sexual assault is defined as any sexual contact made without a person’s consent or permission, then consent is a pivotal part of that. It’s important to recognize, though, that when we talk about consent in relation to sexual assault, we tend to focus on the absence of consent. We address what happens when boundaries are crossed, when we don’t give consent, when we say no. But how often do we ever discuss what it feels like when we say yes?
One of the unfortunate results of this gap in the conversation is that we start to think of consent as an implicit thing. I want to challenge us as a community to reverse this mindset. To more effectively identify and respond to sexual assault, we need to hold ourselves to a different standard – the standard of enthusiastic consent.
We need to have conversations within our relationships about what we want, what we like and what we value, whether that is with a friend, a partner or a hook-up. These conversations allow us to practice enthusiastic consent, and that, it turns out, feels very different. It feels different than negotiated consent, implicit consent and coerced consent, all of which may not be genuine consent. Developing the skill of saying yes to what we want can bring a new light to our past and future experiences.
This is of critical importance because it can be really hard to come out as a survivor of sexual assault. We still live in a culture where victim-blaming is prevalent and sexual assault in the LGBTQ community may not be taken seriously by some individuals. At KCAVP, we spend a lot of time training service providers, nurses, police and others on how to be strong advocates for survivors of violence, but none of that will do any good if members of our community don’t feel comfortable identifying a non-consensual experience as sexual assault. And unfortunately, regardless of what we call it, the trauma still exists.
So where and how do we learn about consent? Often this education starts in schools with our basic sex education class, if we were lucky enough to have one. But let’s be honest – how many of us had any mention of LGBT experiences in sex ed? The heteronormative nature of many sex-ed programs can send the message that all men are constantly looking for sex and that only women hold the key to consent. This puts men in a really difficult situation when dealing with sexual violence. According to the U.S. Department of Justice, 11 percent of sexual assault victims are male, yet many still refer to it as “violence against women.” If you are told from a young age that you are not an active participant in the process of consent or that your consent is a given, how much harder will it be for you to come out as a survivor?
This April (and every month), let’s start talking about consent in our day-to-day lives. Let’s ask before we act and only act when our partner’s consent is as enthusiastic as ours. Let’s stop saying “no means no” and start believing that “only yes means yes.” Let’s try to make our community and our culture a safe place for survivors to seek and receive services regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity. And remember, Kansas City, consent is sexy!
If you or someone you love needs support or services, please call KCAVP at 816-561-0550.
Victoria Pickering is the education and outreach coordinator for the Kansas City Anti-Violence Project.