Students need to understand consent

Cat Urbanski

Editor’s Note: This article addresses themes of sex, rape, and  sexual assault. We advise discretion for readers.

What is consent? At the most basic level, it is approving of something. On college campuses, however, consent has come to mean something more. Conversations about consent often center on someone’s right to decide whether to engage in sexual activity with someone else.

Unfortunately, not everyone is clear on what constitutes consent. We saw the debate over consent recently in the Stanford rape case where Brock Turner assaulted a woman who was unable to consent due to intoxication. Even though Turner was convicted of three counts of sexual assault, his defense attorneys argued that his intoxication mitigated his crime, and the judge in the case agreed. It’s easy for people to believe that consent is up for negotiation when we constantly see it questioned and under investigation by our judicial system. And when it’s someone we know, the lines of consent seem to blur completely.

According to the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network, 59 percent of rapists are acquaintances of the victim, 34 percent are family members of the victim, and 7 percent are strangers. Turner was in the lesser category as a stranger but anyone is capable of hurting another human. While my story doesn’t follow the same path, it does involve a man who didn’t understand consent and took advantage of me before I came to Ursinus. Before I go any further, I’d like to thank Josh Hoffman for being so brave by sharing about his addiction in the Grizzly two weeks ago, which inspired me to share something that is hard for me and many others to talk about.

I clearly remember the day I met him, though I wish I remembered for a good reason. The story starts like all the others, girl meets boy, they like each other and start to date. Travis* was my first boyfriend and he was my first kiss. Things went well for the first month. We took things slow because I wasn’t ready.

One night, we were laying on the couch at his house when things got a bit more heated than ever before, and his hands started roaming. He claimed that I’d like it and I was being too uptight. He said it would make him happy. I responded with a strong “No.” Travis huffed but we went back to kissing until his hand went too low again. I fought him but I lost.

I remember talking to myself thinking it didn’t physically hurt so maybe I was being too dramatic. I was thinking, “Everyone goes this far and we didn’t have sex.” This was just the beginning, though. I’d say no, he’d do it anyway and I’d make up excuses for him, usually blaming myself. It eventually escalated to the point where he coerced me into having sex with him, even though I had repeatedly said no before the act.

When it was over, he got up and left to go home. I, too, got up, and walked him to the door. I remember I stood at my front door staring at the lock for a stupid amount of time, and then the denials came. I called my best friend and asked her if she had explicitly said yes when she and her boyfriend had sex. She laughed and said that they just knew and how words weren’t necessary.

Last year, Nick Anderson and Peyton M. Craighill from the Washington Post looked at consent on campuses and found that students were divided over whether less explicit signals constituted consent. The problem is everyone has different physical reactions, which can be mistaken for more by their partner. The article refers to the “It’s on Us” campaign, spurred by the Obama administration, which reminds students, “If someone does not or cannot consent to sex, it’s rape.”

In the end, staring at my front door, I couldn’t get those silent tears to stop. Sometimes I still can’t. So why is consent important? Whether it’s a casual hookup or a relationship, make sure to always get verbal consent because you may do something you’ll regret or that will go further than you are comfortable with. I still can’t say the R-word because it makes it real what happened to me. I have found that there are people out there that will keep you safe and cherish you. Keep looking for those people and don’t ever lose hope.

Assault happens, especially on college campuses. The Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network also states that 11.2 percent of all students experience rape or sexual assault through physical force, violence, or incapacitation. Among undergraduate students, 23.1 percent of females and 5.4 percent of males experience rape or sexual assault. It can happen to anyone regardless of gender or sexual orientation. Remember, it’s your body and only you can say what happens to it. You have a right to keep it safe and protect it.

To anyone whom this has happened to, keep moving forward. Keep your head up, even when you feel like laying on the ground, curling into a ball, and never getting up. Get up. Get up one hundred times over because in the end no means no.

If you or anyone you know has been sexually assaulted know that Ursinus has help. You can go to the Prevention and Advocacy page on  Ursinus’ website which outlines how to get the help you deserve and available resources.

*Name has been changed.