Defining Consent

What constitutes sexual assault is dangerously ambiguous at the 5Cs
Many of us have witnessed Claremont’s hyper-sexualized party culture. What some students take for granted as a typical Saturday night may present for others uncomfortable sexual situations or worse. Sexual assault is widely defined by Claremont administrations as “including rape, forced sodomy, forced oral copulation, rape by a foreign object, sexual battery, or threat of sexual assault,” all of which are violent acts by nature. But Sara Martino, a Chairwoman of the Board of Students Active For Ending Rape (SAFER), explains that “simply put, a sexual assault occurs when there has been a violation of consent…the key to defining sexual assault is understanding what consent is.” When students of the Claremont Colleges were asked, they also defined sexual assault more widely than their schools did. They used phrases like “sexual touching that is unwanted,” “unwanted sexual advances, sometimes verbal but more likely physical,” “being forced to do a sexual action that you don’t want to do…or maybe even being ‘talked into something that you hadn’t planned on doing.” Claremont students understand that sexual assault can be deceptively friendly or culturally acceptable.

School-sanctioned Claremont parties provide plenty of opportunities for unwanted sexual contact. Students drink copious amounts of alcohol, dance provocatively, and perhaps go back to a dorm room. In these types of situations it is not uncommon for a student to be touched in a way that may make him or her feel uncomfortable. Students in this environment may feel obligated to engage in sexual activity.

Reporting of such acts is rare, however, most likely due to cultural expectations. One student writes, “I wouldn’t want to be ‘that girl’ who reports someone – there’s definitely a stigma surrounding sexual harassment/assault.” Another said she never told authorities “because I was at a party and I didn’t think I would be taken seriously.” Martino explained that “people who have been sexually assaulted often blame themselves, largely because as a society we place the blame on victims by focusing on their behavior, as opposed to the behavior of the perpetrator.”

Too many Claremont students have been taught to accept being touched inappropriately and to believe that if you’re at a party, what other people do to your body doesn’t matter. One anonymous survey respondent wrote “the idea of verbal consent is laughed at. Generally there is a serious misunderstanding of what constitutes rape or sexual assault. People don’t think an event qualifies as such unless it is forcible or violent.” But as Martino of SAFER put it, “just as kissing someone is not an invitation for them to have sex with you, dancing with someone is not an open invitation to have someone grope you.” Martino also explained that “many survivors feel the effects of the assault long after it’s happened… On a college campus, when you may have to see the person who assaulted you in class or around the dorm, students may be routinely triggered.” Sexual assault, even of the sort that is not generally recognized by the college community, can have a continuous detrimental impact on affected students.

Although each of the Claremont Colleges defends the administration’s adamant repudiation of sexual assault, the reality of students’ lives proves that it’s simply not a priority. Administrators may know what happens at parties, yet they provide little support to students who may feel that the environment encroaches on their sexual boundaries. It is imperative that administrators lay out a specific, universally accepted, and inclusive definition of sexual assault, and provide more resources for students who feel they have been violated. Freshman orientation is the perfect opportunity for administrators to explain the definition of sexual assault the consequences it can have. Students must feel more comfortable reporting assault and less comfortable encroaching on the bodies of others. Verbal consent must become a norm, even if it may seem awkward at first. Using phrases like “May I dance with you?” and “Is this okay?” can put students on the same page. By empowering students to report, administrators can help make Claremont a safer place. Sexual assault is serious, it is sensitive, and it is time for students and administrators alike to afford it the respect that it deserves.

Summer Dowd-Lukesh is a Scripps student studying abroad in Paris for the entire year. When she's not complaining about the lack of sun in France, she likes to visit old cathedrals, look up new French words, and scrutinize the fashion choices of Parisian men.

3 Responses to “Defining Consent”

  1. Valerie says:

    Expecting a prolonged verbal negotiation prior to every casual touch is pretty clearly an unreasonable expectation. No always means no, but I can’t imagine that most people would expect someone to stop and ask for permission to simply touch them if they’re already making out or grinding. Ditto for long-term relationships. No one expects their partner to stop and ask for permission every time you kiss one another good morning.


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  1. […] extensively about the epidemic of sexual assault on college campuses, for ChoiceWords and for publications on campus. It’s an issue close to my heart. That’s why I was so happy to see a new bill proposed in my […]

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