Conversations about consent and its meaning remain important


To think it can be as simple as a cup of tea. There is a popular video circulating that explains the concept of consent in sexual interactions through the metaphor of a cup of tea. Simply put, if you ask someone if they want a cup of tea, and that person says no — or is unable to say yes — it is not OK to pour tea down her/his throat. You can watch the entire video on YouTube.

It really is that simple. If someone does not or cannot give consent to sexual activity, then having sex with that person is sexual assault or rape. End of story. It does not matter if you “think” they are “into it.” It does not matter if you have had a sexual encounter with them before. It does not matter if you both have been drinking. If a person does not or cannot give consent to sexual activity, it is not OK — it is never OK — to have sex with him/her.

The concept is simple, but still some people struggle with it. Headlines and commentary around Penn State wrestlers Nate Parker and Jean Celestin’s rape charges nearly 20 years ago, and more recently the outrageous sentence imposed on Stanford swimmer Brock Turner, make it clear that we still need to be having conversations about consent and what it means. In both these horrific situations, the defendants said, in effect, I thought it was OK because … she didn’t say no … she seemed into it …we’d both been drinking. It was true 20 years ago and it is true now. Sex without consent is sexual assault.

Every year at this time, the Centre County Women’s Resource Center gets multiple requests for interviews about sexual assault. The media, it seems, have learned what a dangerous time the first few weeks of school can be for incoming students at colleges and universities around the country. While there is evidence that the risk of sexual assault is higher in the first weeks and months of the fall semester, the reality is that we need to be having conversations about consent all year-round — not just in August and September. And perhaps we should be having them with high school students who are preparing to go to college.

Too often, however, conversations about sexual assault involve telling potential victims what they must do to reduce the risk of assault. And while the advice offered isn’t bad or wrong, it is incomplete. If the only conversations we are having with our sons and daughters are about reducing their risk, we shift the responsibility for preventing sexual assault to the victim or potential victim. Conversations about consent, about what it means to ask for consent and how to tell if it has been given, put the responsibility for preventing sexual assault where it belongs — on the one who might commit the assault.

The entertaining commentary and the cute stick figures in the “Tea and Consent” video give us a way to think about what consent means and what it does and doesn’t look like. It can be a great conversation starter with your kids or their friends or anyone concerned about the prevalence of sexual assault in our society. Healthy relationships depend on the mutuality and respect that are inherent and modeled in consent in sexual interactions. It really is as simple as a cup of tea.

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