Consent. It is a word at the forefront of a movement, found on brightly colored posters that scream “My body, My choice”, or in videos with over simplified analogies played to crowds of giggling teenagers. While the attempts to convey this message are admirable, the results are often lacking and ineffective. How can we expect differently, if we only mention the word in a brief college orientation or in a lackluster sex-ed course? Consent is not a one-time presentation or a desperate plea to a disinterested public. Bringing awareness of this concept to youth in middle school is already too late. Consent should be an integral part our daily lives in every action we perform. It is a way of life, a belief that should permeate every aspect of our interactions with others. It is a concept synonymous with basic human respect and the simple right of choice.
It is a concept synonymous with basic human respect and the simple right of choice.
To discuss consent, we must first discuss the lack thereof. The concept of victim blaming, and its central role in rape culture. There is a particular phrase that really reflects the root of the problem. It is a phrase used often by the defense in a trial, a phrase found far too often in the discussion of rape culture. “They were asking for it.” This statement does not only completely invalidate the violence forced upon the victim, it also goes as far as to suggest consent. It says “Well, her skirt was short,” or “He was walking alone,” thereby implying that such reasonable, everyday actions are not only an allowance of, but a request for sexual violence. It says that if you wear a short skirt or get drunk or a myriad of different every day activities, you are essentially consenting to rape. This is a twisted mindset that plagues our society today. It gives permission to the act that is so depraved because takes away the very essence of the human spirit. It takes away choice.
There have been many efforts made to combat rape culture. A recent one that has garnered a lot of media attention, is the No means No movement. However, this movement flawed movement that insinuates that unless there is direct opposition, consent can be assumed. This is a false premise, because if there is no active consent, consent cannot be assumed. It is easy to throw around big words in an effort to educate the public on this crucial concept. These movements are good for those who such issues affect, but they do not really impact those who are meant to hear them. No rapist will suddenly change their ways because they heard a 15-minute speech on obtaining consent. That begs the question, how do we then emphasize consent? The key is to target people before they have any preconceived notions of sex, when they are still learning how to interact with others. The key is to reach the children.
Consent should be taught to children from the moment they become aware. As soon as they understand the concept of no, they should be taught consent. It should be a demand of society that every human being must consent to the actions they perform or are performed on them, not only in terms of sex, but in every aspect of choice. In the Netherlands, they start teaching the concept of consent to children from the very first year that they start school. There is no explicit mention of sex in their curriculum. Rather, the entire curriculum is dedicated to teaching the concepts of love, relationships, and healthy boundaries. Consent is taught in terms of hugging, body awareness, and intimacy, and the children are taught how to incorporate consent in their everyday lives. In our society, especially, children are often thought to be the “property” of parents, and their feelings and rights are often ignored and overlooked. However, children have the capacity for choice as much as any adult. If it feels like their choices are valued, they will value other people’s right to choose as well. Respecting their choices will ensure that they grow up with a healthy sense of self, and the ability to set proper boundaries. This will teach them value of the right to refuse and the importance of active consent when they are young, and they will grow up incorporating the concept of consent into all their behaviors. Hopefully this way we will build the idea of consent into the basic structures of the new generations, and work to create a healthier society that will eradicate rape culture once and for all.