consent: no means no
Disclaimer: If this issue is triggering to you, it'd be best if you stop reading now -- the last thing I'd want to do is cause you pain or discomfort. If this issue makes you uncomfortable because it's not talked about often, especially by someone younger, I'd strongly advise you to continue reading. Choosing to act as though an issue doesn't exist simply because you think it doesn't concern you personally makes you part of the problem. This is the reality we live in. This is the reality that can be changed, if only we're aware of it and advocate for a better one.
You might've heard of the term “rape culture” before in passing. Take a moment to let those two words sink in. What is the first thing that comes to mind when you think of the word “rape”? You've probably heard or read horrific stories about it and felt your blood boil with rage and your heart sink in despair. One syllable. Four letters. Some people have to live with that word circling their minds forever. Because the feeling of being touched against your will never goes away. Because the pain you felt in the moment and the pain you felt when it was over will nag at you for the rest of your life. That is the fate of a victim. Now think of the word “culture.” It's humanity. It's society. It's tradition. It's customs. It's art, and music, and literature, and philosophy. But it's also mentality. And in the world we live in, this mentality is becoming more toxic than ever.
Rape culture. Can you imagine? That disgusting word joined with people's way of thinking. Imagine someone pointing out a girl in a short skirt and a tank top and then turning to you and saying, “God, is she asking for it or what?” Imagine watching the news and seeing reporters argue about whether a rape victim brought it upon themselves when they got drunk at a party and passed out, unaware of what was happening to them. Imagine a woman in a business suit and high heels walking down the streets of New York City, when suddenly she hears catcalls that follow long after she's asked for them to stop. Guess what? You don't have to imagine, because this happens for real every day. Rape culture is a concept that's been institutionalized in our society that makes sexual violence inevitable. To put it simply: we allow it to happen. We allow it when we slut shame, victim blame, and objectify bodies. We allow it when we make it okay for rapists to get off with a light sentence. We allow it when we don't blink an eye at a cry for help. We allow it when we stick to the belief that "only women get raped" and laugh when the roles are reversed. We allow it when many cases of rape go unreported because of rape culture itself -- when victims are too afraid to press charges or testify in the fear of what people will say or think and whether they'll get the justice they deserve.
Now, think about the words “yes” and “no.” We've been saying them for as long as we can remember; from the moment we could speak and understand. To say yes is to agree. To say no is to disagree. And all the little phrases that we use in between, like “I don't want to” or “not right now” or “of course” or “all right” all mean the same thing. So why then, is it so hard to understand the meaning of yes and no when it comes to consent? Consent has always meant and will always mean the same thing: permission, approval, agreement. You'll be surprised (or maybe not) at how many times rapists have argued that “they were unsure” of what the victim meant when they said “I don't want to” or “not right now.” There is absolutely no way either of those phrases can be translated to “yes.” But at some point society has made it okay for people to believe that “I don't want to” or “not right now” isn't enough of a reason. It is. It is more than enough of a reason. Simply having the gut feeling that tells you no is enough to justify every choice you will ever make for the rest of your life.
Being drunk doesn't guarantee consent. Being passed out doesn't guarantee consent. Reluctance doesn't guarantee consent. However someone may dress or wherever they may go, yes will always mean yes and no will always mean no. A protest will always be a protest. A cry for help will always be a cry for help.
I beg you all to understand that rape is not an issue to be taken lightly. It is not an issue to be brushed off and trivialized. It is not an issue you can ignore because it doesn't affect you. It does. How can you be indifferent to it when it affects the people around you? Whether you know them or not, whether you'll remember their names tomorrow or not, it will continue to be an impending problem unless everyone stands together to do something about it. And that starts, first and foremost, by making yourself as aware as possible. It starts when you let go of the negativity and toxicity of rape culture. It starts when you educate yourself and the next generation on the meaning of consent. Because tomorrow depends on today. What we do now, the choices we make, can either make or break tomorrow's reality.
In Relation: A former Stanford student who sexually assaulted an unconscious woman was sentenced to six months in jail because a longer sentence would have "a severe impact on him," according to a judge. Read the powerful letter written by the woman to her attacker here.