Creating a Culture of Consent

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April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month, and we’ve been holding a series of community events in our ongoing commitment to support survivors and help prevent sexual assault. One such event was a community discussion entitled “Conversation Hour on Consent Culture” co-facilitated by Austin Lea from Planned Parenthood, and Jessie Spinney, Sexual Assault Prevention Specialist for YWCA Clark County.

The topic of consent has been brought to the forefront of news and popular culture in the wake of last year’s #MeToo movement. Now more than ever women and men are feeling empowered to share their experiences and demand that as a society we re-examine the ways we think and talk about sexual assault and the meaning of consent.

Spinney and Lea started off the discussion by examining the legal definition of consent in Washington State, which is:

RCW 9A.44.010 “Consent” means that: at the time of the act of sexual intercourse or sexual contact there are actual words or conduct indicating freely given agreement to have sexual intercourse or sexual contact.

Spinney noted that while Washington’s definition is much better compared to many other states, “legal definitions are also sort of ‘the bare minimum’ or a good foundational place to start” in terms of our cultural understanding of what consent should look like.

To try and expand upon that definition, she and Lea presented a more all-encompassing way of thinking about consent. Among the points they sought to emphasize about consent:

  • It needs to be freely given, with no type of force or manipulation, pressure or coercion.
  • It’s reversible (people can change their mind throughout)
  • It’s informed (people are on the same page about sexual health status, use of protection, etc…)
  • It’s enthusiastic (Understanding the difference between a hesitant or quiet yes and a really positive yes)
  • It needs to be specific (consenting to one thing is not consenting to another)

“We also talked about how important it is to in our efforts to replace “rape culture” with a “culture of consent”, that we really be intentional about making those efforts intersectional and inclusive of identities and lived experiences of marginalized identities,” said Spinney. She continued,

“The idea is that while rape culture affects everyone, it specifically affects marginalized groups in even more specific and damaging ways because of the fact that different forms of oppression interact and compound on one another. So if we’re going to create a movement for consent culture, it needs to be an anti-racist, queer and trans-inclusive, and ability-inclusive movement.”

When asked if she has noticed an elevated awareness around the topic of consent since the inception of the #MeToo movement, Spinney said she had, “mainly because now people feel like they have the space and platform to talk about this, where as before, this topic was, and still is unfortunately, but slightly less so, so stigmatized.”

To that end Spinney acknowledges the importance of continuing conversations, and amplifying discussions on the topic of consent.

“I think the biggest thing is just really normalizing and destigmatizing the practice of asking for consent,” said Spinney. “Doing so is crucial to making sure that consent is fundamentally built into all our conversations on sexuality.”

Visit our Facebook page to learn more about future community events, and visit https://ywcaclarkcounty.org/what-we-do/our-programs/sexual-assault-program/ to learn more about our Sexual Assault Program.

For immediate assistance call our 24-hour hotline at 360-695-0501 or toll free at 800-695-0167.