! TRIGGER WARNING: SEXUAL ASSAULT !
'Would you like a cup of tea?'
'Are you sure that you don’t want tea?'
'Yes, I’m sure.'
'But you know you want the tea...'
'Errrrm, did you not hear me right?'
Asking someone if they would like a cup of tea is a very simple concept, one would think. It’s either a yes or no. This applies to everything in life. Apparently not everything though, especially if you replace the word tea with sex. Then, suddenly a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ becomes gibberish to some.
For some of you who do not know - or more, if you need an elevator pitch for someone who does not understand the concept - consent means actively agreeing to be sexual with someone. Consent lets someone know that sex is wanted. Sexual activity without consent is rape or sexual assault.
I have been sexually assaulted. However, it wasn't until very recently that I actually realised it because it was with someone who became a friend with benefits. I use the term ‘friend’ loosely because he was a mysogynistic prick. But at the time, I was a sexually active 17 year-old and we had been texting for a while. It was at someone’s birthday party that the texts turned into a cheeky snog in a tent. However, when it was lights out and everyone fell asleep, suddenly I felt him come close and his hands started wandering. Hold on a second, I was clearly trying to sleep. So I turned around and told him no. But when I turned back around to sleep, he started again, but this time his hands went straight down my trousers. The sad thing is, I let him. I knew that he was being persistent and I didn’t want to wake anyone else up and be caught. So I let him for the sake of peace. After that night, continued from the attention that he had given me, we began sleeping together on a regular basis for a couple of months.
I know many of my friends who have been in similar situations, because we were all very sexually active teenagers, and with a lot of house parties in a small community, things happen. But now, we are strong sexually active women, and we know and understand that actually, what was happening was so wrong. And as our awareness grew, we understood that this was not just a small community thing.
In May 2015, Emma Sulkowicz carried a mattress everywhere on campus for a whole year. The student swore to not put down the mattress until the school expelled her alleged rapist from campus. Sulkowicz said that she was raped during her sophomore year. She and two other woman all reported the same attacker to the university. All three cases were dismissed. This case raised awareness of campus culture and the regular occurrence of rape. And then there’s the infamous Brock Turner case in the same year, whereby the then 20 year-old was convicted of sexual assault with intent to rape an intoxicated woman and sexually penetrating an intoxicated and unconscious person with a foreign object. Two bystanders caught him ‘thrusting’ on top of the motionless woman outside a fraternity house by a dumpster. Yet with solid witnesses, Brock Turner and his attorneys attempted to discredit the victim and argue that the attack on the unconscious woman constituted consensual sex.
These cases spark national and global outrage at the injustice and indignity for the victims of these crimes, and as the number of cases grow or come to light from years ago, the voices of protest grow louder. Yes, they are crimes. People who engage in sexual activity with someone who does not give consent is a criminal. Full stop.
However, in October 2015 Thames Valley Police highlighted the issue by promoting a cartoon comparing sex to a well known British pastime – drinking a cup of tea. The result is a simple and effective animation, which gives clear instructions as to what constitutes as sexual consent. Detective Chief Inspector Justin Fletcher said: ‘The law is very clear. Sex without consent is rape. Awareness of what sexual consent means and how to get it is vital.’
One particular part of the video illustrates a very poignant concept that Brock Turner and his attorneys didn’t seem to grasp: ‘Maybe they were conscious when you asked them if they wanted tea, and they said “yes”. But in the time it took you to boil the kettle, brew the tea and add the milk they are now unconscious […] Don’t make them drink the tea. They said “yes” then, sure, but unconscious people don’t want tea.’
Yet with the progress made to highlight this important issue in sexual health and engagement, it is still happening and consent seems to still be a gibberish language despite being such a poignant issue. And it isn’t just campus culture. It expands into long-term and short-term relationships, dating, friends with benefits and marriage etc, where there may be a fine line between presumption and consent, and the line becomes blurry in the eyes of the law, similar to my personal example.
Women are growing stronger and I am proud of the steps that many have taken to fight this injustice. Consent is a language barrier that needs to be learnt, and people are taking action to teach the lingo. The UK government launched the Disrespect NoBody campaign in January 2017 to educate young people about what a healthy relationship is and what consent means. CUSU created the Sexual Consent Campaign in Cambridge, which aims to tackle the myths, misunderstandings and problematic perspectives about rape, sexual consent and sexual harassment. Also in June 2017, Nevada Governor Brian Sandoval signed a bill that requires state law enforcement agencies to decrease the time between the initial sexual assault exams and the DNA analysis, which very few states in the US currently mandate. The bill also allocates funds to help pay for the costs of testing rape kits.
More progress is required, especially from higher levels of authority. For people the world over (because this issue goes beyond cisgender women), this is a daily issue that can be solved with the help of simple education and stricter laws that punish those guilty of such crimes.