“Sixty percent of females have experienced rape/attempted rape/harassment/sexual coercion during their college years.” - Charlene Senn, psychologist at the University of Windsor. The Canadian Federation of Students created the “No means No” campaign two decades ago. Since that time there have been countless Take Back the Night marches, sexual assault awareness programs, and rape culture conferences. Yet, today, Canadian citizens still seem to be baffled by the concept of consent.
‘What is considered sexual assault?’ ‘But she was wearing a miniskirt.’ ‘What if they are dating?’
We, as a society, have failed. How has such an important topic like consent fallen to the wayside in our educational systems? Why have we neglected to address this topic in our sexual education programs?
Universities, high schools, and nightclubs around the world are hotbeds for sexual assault. This phenomenon will continue to shape the maturation period for teens and young adults in the most negative ways unless we reform our education policies immediately.
Today our generation and the generation before us are both woefully ignorant, and the next generation will be doomed to the same fate unless we take action. If we are to achieve structural transformation, the solution rests within bottom-up action. And this action entails an overhaul of our nation’s sexual education curriculum.
If you were to ask a student about what they remember from their Sex Ed class, they will say STI descriptions or condom demonstrations. Schools today unfortunately fail to address the complex realities of adolescent life. Educators neglect discussions about navigating intimacy, female/male sexuality, the associations of alcohol and sex, and so much more.
Canadian schools need to steer the minds of teenagers away from the normalized and misguided notions of sexual assault which pop culture today produces. Schools must teach children not to put the onus on victims rather than perpetrators. Sexual educators need to focus on discussions of consent. But not just any consent – enthusiastic consent.
Because no means no, always. But does yes always mean yes?
We need today’s educators to expand the focus of sexual education; we need them to go beyond the standard “no means no” discussion.
Talking about the complexities of consent and alcohol, relationship pressures, and the absence of a verbal response are all critical factors that can determine whether or not sexual assault may occur. And whether or not that nod or mumble, really was enough.
When it comes to consent, our youth are not stupid, but they are undereducated.
Barendregt-Brown, from London’s Sexual Assault Centre, says it best: “When kids are little, we don’t teach them how not to get hit, we teach them not to hit.”
This is in direct opposition with the position we provide these children later in life.
Parents give advice: “Look out for your friends”, “Don’t leave any girl alone”, “Don’t take our eyes off your drink”, “Keep your cellphone on loud all night”, etc. This demonstrates exactly society’s current response to sexual assault; the responsibility on the victim to avoid any harm, rather than stopping the offender from causing harm.
We need to shift our discussions with adolescents from advice to questions. We need to stop listing tips of precaution and engage in a two-sided conversation where teenagers are forced to actually think, and work through issues, about intimacy. Parents need to ask their children, “Have you had a discussion with your partner about intimacy?” Are you paying attention to their body language? Are you 100% certain your partner wants to have sex?”
We need the youth of today to understand why it is not okay to sexually assault someone, and how to ensure they don’t ever do it. As Barendregt-Brown says, kids need to learn how not to hit.
Because I’m damn tired of dodging the punches.