As Sexual Assault Awareness Month comes to a close, it’s important to reflect on the ways in which the occurrence of sexual assault is perpetuated by our everyday attitudes and actions, as well as by the longstanding sociocultural systems we exist within. As it stands, our society unfortunately exists as a place where every 92 seconds an American is sexually assaulted (RAINN), victims often feel silenced and ostracized, and when they do speak, their voices often fall on deaf ears. This is exactly what is trying to be highlighted in conversations about rape culture. While the term “rape culture” helps us to understand the insidious ways in which sexual assault is a deep cultural problem, it begs the question of what can be done to affirmatively and proactively combat it. What kind of culture can we cultivate as an alternative?
Consent culture is a culture which normalizes the action of asking for consent and respecting whatever responses are given. It affirms that each individual has bodily autonomy and maintains that boundaries (a person’s right to choose what is comfortable to them) should be respected unconditionally. The foundation of this culture is built upon a basic understanding of consent. Consent involves an enthusiastic, affirmative, and voluntary “yes” that is not implied or assumed in the absence of a “no” and can be revoked at any time. While consent should always be given in situations of sexual interaction, it doesn’t only apply here. Consent culture should be extended to all facets of life and treating it as such is imperative in efforts to combat both rape culture and sexual assault.
What are some practical ways to cultivate a culture of consent? Teach the concept of consent early and model it! Showing children what consent looks like and that they have a right to develop and maintain healthy boundaries is integral to the process of creating a culture of consent. Beyond this, helping children to ask for consent and accept rejection in their everyday interactions with friends and family members creates a foundation for their relationships later in life. Some basic ways this can be achieved is by asking children for permission, giving them multiple alternatives in situations when asking them to do something (so they can make choices based on their personal boundaries), and preparing them for bodily autonomy and independence.
Teaching children about consent is just one component of creating a culture of consent. In order to successfully cultivate a culture of consent, we must constantly ask how the concept of consent can be applied to our lives and integrated into our everyday actions. We must be respectful, and not dismissive, of the boundaries people establish, while simultaneously maintaining the boundaries we establish for ourselves.
Written By: Nadia Rosales
National Sexual Violence Resource Center
Leary, M. (2016). Affirmatively replacing rape culture with consent culture. Texas Tech Law Review 49(1), 1-56.