Why it is important to create a culture of consent on campuses
We create ‘consent culture’ when we value the feelings of people we are interacting with either casually or professionally. It’s about respecting each other’s personal and emotional boundaries every time. It is myth that consent is only important when it comes to sex. Consent culture goes beyond sex and applies to everyday interactions- from sharing a photo of someone online, to asking before giving a hug. Consent should be voluntary, enthusiastic, sober, verbal, non-coerced, continuous and honest. In the context of sex/physical relationship lack of consent is rape. Only when consent has been vocalized, should a physical relationship move to the next level. It’s about mutual satisfaction and not just focusing on yourself.
In this context, it is important to look at the parallels between social consent and sexual consent in a patriarchal society. Patriarchy creates and sustains a culture which makes it easier for men to define and maintain their boundaries than it is for women and other genders. Hence, the concept of consent is strongly dependent on how much voice an individual has in society. The lack of social agency for women and queer identities is also manifested in their sexual lives and one needs to be mindful of this at all times. When we talk about the root cause of gender – based violence, more often than not, we discuss patriarchy as being the primary reason. In a patriarchal society, characterised by gender inequality, women are considered second -class citizens, giving rise to gender-based violence and a flourishing rape culture affecting almost all sections and institutions of the society.
Having said this, let’s talk about educational institutions and particularly the institutions for higher education and how sexual assault should be identified, addressed and prevented.
Sexual assault on college campuses is a common problem that often goes unreported. It includes any unwanted sexual activity- unwanted touching, stalking, teasing, rape etc. College days are a crucial time for personal discovery, excitement and getting exposed to the world of sexuality. It is important to get educated about sexual assault and how we can foster a healthy culture of consent on and off campus. According to a study on sexual harassment in colleges in Mumbai, 61% of female respondents reported to have experienced some form of sexual harassment and close to half of the male respondents reported to have witnessed some form of sexual harassment on campus. It affects students of all ages, caste, ethnicities and religious backgrounds within an exclusive learning environment.1
In 2016-17 academic year, there was a 50% increase (from 2015-16) in reported cases of sexual harassment in various higher education institutions, as presented by the Union Minister of State for Human Resource Development, Shri. Satya Pal Singh, in a written reply to the Lok Sabha. 901 cases of campus ragging were registered in 2017 compared to 515 in 2016, said the Minister.2
What can you do?
The statistics, the stories you read in the news, and the stories you hear from your friends are absolutely heart-breaking and scary. But, before you let those overwhelm you, be aware of how you can resist this. There are few points mentioned below which are responsible for rape culture. If you are in support of any of the points mentioned below, you are among those who are contributing to the rape culture. The points are:
- Blaming the victim (She is asking for it!)
- Trivializing sexual assault (Boys will be boys)
- Enjoy the sexually explicit jokes
- Tolerance of sexual assault
- Inflating false rape report statistics
- Publicly scrutinizing a victim’s dress, mental state, motives, and history
- Defining “manhood” as dominant and sexually aggressive
- Defining “womanhood” as submissive and sexually passive
- Pressure on men to “score”
- Pressure on women to not appear “cold”
- Assuming only promiscuous women get raped
- Assuming that men don’t get rape or that only weak men get raped
- Refusing to take rape accusations seriously
- Teaching women to avoid getting raped instead of teaching men not to rape
There are a few basic things that can help to prevent assault on campuses, in communities and at home.
- Understand what consent really is and what it is not.
- Normalize consent with your friends and partners and be aware that the consent can be withdrawn at any point of time
- Examine which aspects of your own beliefs, attitudes, and behaviours need to be challenged
- Avoid using language that objectifies or degrades women
- Shut down victim blaming.
- Speak out if you hear someone else making an offensive joke or trivializing rape
- Think critically about the media’s messages about women, men relationships and violence
- Be respectful of others physical space even in casual situations
- Always communicate with sexual partners and do not assume consent
- Define your manhood and womanhood. Do not let stereotypes shape your actions.
- Participate in education and outreach opportunities to spread awareness to others.
- Reach out! Speak out! Name injustices! Be an Active Bystander!
- Be a role model & ally
- Transform systems using your sphere of influence
- Take care of self
- Let survivors know that it is not their fault!
Modelling the concept of consent for our children
How can we educate our children to have healthy relationships and not become like one of these statistics? The key is to educate children about consent and communication. In our daily life, there are plenty of non –sex related things we can do to model the concept of consent to our children early in their lives. For example, when a relative wants a hug & your child doesn’t want to, it’s okay for you to teach them how to politely decline. Before posting your child’s picture or the things they say on Facebook, do you ask them if it’s okay? And if they say ‘No’ are you okay with it? Do you force your children to eat things they don’t want to or take them to parties they don’t want to go to?
Our child’s inputs matter. Let’s reinforce it by asking for their input in all kinds of everyday decisions. Like adults, children too are the boss of their own bodies. Explaining them the elements that must be present in consent are:
- It involves giving permission or agreeing to engage in an activity (sexual or otherwise)
- It is voluntary and unambiguous
- It is revocable at any point
- It is mandatory with every sexual activity and encounter
If you’re intoxicated, asleep or not of legal age, then “you’re not able to give consent”. This should be taken note of. “Teaching boys and girls early on to respect their bodies and each other goes a long way in building consent culture and eventually helps in addressing gender- based violence and prepare them to challenge the norms perpetuating rape culture.