Living in a city, I deal with being catcalled, inappropriately touched, and harassed on a weekly, if not more frequent, basis, and I know that I am not alone in this experience. It defies gender, race, and sexuality, though some are more affected than others.
Consent is often a hot topic these days, and is another one of those words where everybody has a different definition. The legal definition in the United States varies from state to state, and some states, such as Massachusetts or Iowa, do not specifically define it at all.
Illinois has a very clear policy on consent that I think sums it up pretty well. Their definition of consent (or lack thereof) is this:
“Consent” means a freely given agreement to the act of sexual penetration or sexual conduct in question. Lack of verbal or physical resistance or submission by the victim resulting from the use of force or threat of force by the accused shall not constitute consent. The manner of dress of the victim at the time of the offense shall not constitute consent. A person who initially consents to sexual penetration or sexual conduct is not deemed to have consented to any sexual penetration or sexual conduct that occurs after he or she withdraws consent during the course of that sexual penetration or sexual conduct.
It’s a long definition, but it is very thorough. It is much more than just not saying no, which is what some people see as consent. The problem with having many definitions is that it makes it even harder to find justice for victims of sexual assault. It can even make it hard for victims of sexual assault to realize what has happened to them. This happened to me, and it took me a long time to figure out that what happened to me was rape.
People made me feel like that because I had gone on a date with a guy and done other things with a guy meant that he didn’t have to respect my wishes not to have sex. All of it happened so fast, and even though I said no, I have often thought that maybe I didn’t fight back hard enough. Maybe I could have done more. But the truth is, I shouldn’t have had to. The man in question should have known better than to force himself on my body when I said no, both before and during it. We need to change the way we think about assault. It doesn’t matter what you have done with someone in the past, what you are doing with them in the moment, or what you wore. If you do not want to have sex with someone, they should respect that.
The following video pretty accurate summarizes what morally defines consent, even if the law can’t agree. Respect the people you are with, and if they don’t clearly consent, don’t do it.