Lessons on Consent From a #PettyBlackFeminist

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By Vanessa Geffrard
Lately, my social media has been a firestorm of perspective on everything from Donald Trump, to Nate Parker, and now Derrick Rose and the commentary from each of these men is sickening. I've reached the point where I can no longer sit behind my screen and torture myself by reading the cases of these men and the comment sections.

When I reviewed Nate Parker's case and Derrick Rose's new case, the common thread that no one seemed to understand was the parameters of consent.

Oh my friend, you thought it was super simple, but from the looks of things, no one has a damn clue as to how it works. So what I've decided to do is get off my #pettyblackfeminist high horse and regulate, in hopes that Nate, Derrick, and others learn something.

Here are a few consent myths debunked. Listen up, because I'm not going to tell you again and I'm exhausted.

1. We were drinking.

First things first, people cannot give consent when they are drunk, high, sleeping, unconscious, on a xanex, or passed out. If it ain't sober, it ain't consent and stop trying to make it the case.

2. But what if they told me they wanted to have sex before we went out, word is bond right?

No, stop it. You sound dumb. People are entitled to change their minds at any time. Sex and consent is about free will. It's about being able to change your mind without being coerced, manipulated, or made to feel as if a person can't say "no". Things change and maybe the person just doesn't feel like having sex. With you. Anymore. Guess what? Folks can change their mind at any time during an interaction. So there are take-backsies. If a person is midway into it or in the middle of an act, they are entitled to change their minds.

Think about it like this. You woke up this morning and you said to yourself, "I can't wait to get a burger at lunch today. I'm going to get it with some pickles, onions, mmm...mmmm... mmm...." and then you get to lunchtime, and you walk past a Thai place and say to yourself, "pad thai?! I love me some pad thai! I'm going to get some pad thai!". See what happened there? You changed your mind. And you know the best part? No one nagged you, forced you, "persuaded" you, or repeatedly reminded you that you wanted burgers earlier and now you want pad thai. Having pad thai is your right, just like changing your mind is.

3. But they didn't actually say no.

See, I don't know about you... But there's a thing called synonyms. People don't always say "no" to show that they aren't into an act. Some people may choose to use words like, "not right now", "I'm not sure", "uhhh......", or silence. These phrases or lack thereof do not equate to consent.

There is also nonverbal communication in our society. I urge you to become one with that language. Sometimes, folks don't feel comfortable saying "no" or feel that they are unable, freeze and can't use words. This is where we have to pay attention to the other person's body language for guidance. Are they into it? Are they kissing you back? Are they actively participating? Are they touching you back? What is their face saying?

And another thing, you can always ask. I know asking can feel intimidating, but you have to find a way that's clear and comfortable. One way we can remove the ambiguity is by enabling the person to respond to openly respond. Try these: "Tell me what you like", "What do you want me to do next?"- this way you get clear instructions from your partner.

4. We've had sex before.

Don't be this person. Refer to number 2 on this list. Having sex one time does not guarantee a pass to have sex every time. Again, people can change their minds.

5. People who report sexual assault are liars.

We have this weird oxymoron in our society. We blame folks for not speaking up when they've been sexually assaulted or wait too long, but call their character into questions if they do report. Survivors are often asked what they were wearing, how much they drank; called liars, revengeful, money hungry, and careless. Historically and in light of the recent cases with Nate Parker, Derrick Rose, Donald Trump, and even Dr. Dre- survivors are told to quiet their stories for fear of "toppling greatness". Survivors are always told to hold their truths as to not bring "shame" to themselves, families, institutions, colleges, etc. As a matter of fact, 2-8% of reported rape cases are false, in line with the false reports of other crimes such as robbery, car thefts- and even those have higher false reporting rates . As far as women who never report at all, 60% of sexual assaults are never reported to the police. And when it comes to men, our numbers aren't clear. Lastly, when it comes to jail time, only 3% of people who commit assault and rapes are ever incarcerated . So when it actually comes to reporting, there's no grand scheme here. It's the survivor that gets the public, private, and online scrutiny- if that person comes forward. Your status updates and defense of rapist don't help in changing that narrative.

6. I watched this episode of Law and Order and it definitely didn't happen like that.

See, Detective Benson is bae and I love Law and Order like the next person, but it perpetuates the stereotype that sexual assault happens violently among strangers at Central Park. 3 out of 4 sexual assaults are committed by someone known by the survivor. Sexual Assault occurs from ignoring all the steps above. Ignoring that a person changed their mind. Not paying attention to their verbal cues. Pressuring someone to have sex or asking them repeatedly. Ignoring when their face is saying "I'm not with it" or if they're not kissing you back. Sexual Assault isn't necessarily about yelling, screaming, and kidnapping- and oftentimes, that's why it's hard to name sexual assault and rape.

Besides dispelling the myths about sexual assaults, it's important to call behaviors for what they are and checking others. This means if we see someone taking advantage of another person at a party, who may be drunk or high- not standing there. If we see our friends taking advantage of someone, giving them more to drink, or not accepting "no" for an answer when trying to get someone's number in our everyday lives- we have to speak up. The stats of 1in 6 women and 1 in 33 men being sexually assaulted will never change, if we don't start having these conversations and tackling these erroneous myths.

Vanessa Geffrard is a passionate sexual health educator residing in West Baltimore. Vanessa is the founder and creator of VagEsteem™, a podcast and workshop series that teaches women how to have courageous conversations about sex and sexuality. Check her out at www.vagesteem.com

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