Consent Begins in the HallwaysOctober 13, 2011
This post is part of a new series on sexual harassment in school, launched in conjunction with the upcoming AAUW report Crossing the Line: Sexual Harassment at School. Follow @AAUWResearch on Twitter for more information.
There’s a lot of awesome work happening around the issues of sex and consent right now. With everything from the Consensual Project’s university-based workshops to the Line Campaign ’s documentary and discussion guides, more people are recognizing that everyone deserves to have a full say in what happens during their intimate moments.
But consent — and talking about it — means more than whether or not we have permission to pursue a certain sexual activity. It means considering what we are comfortable with, knowing what we want and don’t want sexually, and being able to express those things. At its core, consent is about communication. When we know what we want and don’t want, we can draw boundaries for ourselves. We can speak up when someone has crossed those boundaries or, ideally, speak up before it happens. Thinking about consent beyond our own desires, it also means considering the boundaries of others and respecting that not everyone is equally comfortable with the same things.
When we think of consent in this way, we realize that we don’t just have to practice consent during sex. Practicing consent can start long before that, especially for students and teenagers. Consent can begin in the hallways, in the classroom, after school, and in the locker room. Students can practice consent when someone makes a comment that they’re not comfortable with, when there’s inappropriate and unwanted touching going on, or when they’re sent a pornographic picture on their cell phones. Students can be encouraged to think about what they are and aren’t OK with and be encouraged to voice those things when something happens.
There is no simple solution to curbing sexual harassment and assault in high schools, but talking to students about consent is a great way to start — and not just from a reactionary point of view (teaching students how to speak up when something happens) but from a prevention standpoint as well. Students can be made aware of their classmates’ boundaries and learn that a joke or comment can make someone feel unsafe and uncomfortable. It may not be easy; learning to say no or to speak up for ourselves is a tough thing, even for adults. And learning to check in with ourselves about the needs of others is equally challenging. But practice makes perfect; the more you practice, the easier it gets. It makes sense to start early.
This post was written by AAUW Legal Advocacy Fund Intern Julie Smolinski.