October 6, 2017

Promoting Affirmative Consent in a Trump Presidency

By CHRISTINA CHEN

Christina Chen was a VOICE Representative for the Relationship and Sexual Violence Prevention and Services at the University of Southern California from Fall 2015 to Spring 2017.  She has presented her research at international scientific conferences and published peer-reviewed articles on mental health issues in underrepresented populations including girls and women.  As Resident Assistant for USC’s Residential Education and as VOICE Representative, she moderated panel discussions and delivered presentations on topics related to sexual assault, healthy relationships, domestic violence, and gender inequality in the workplace.  In 2015, she traveled to Rajasthan, India to promote the educational advancement of girls belonging to the lowest caste.

Taylor Swift recently delivered an impassioned argument against sexual assault and empowered many organizations working with survivors of sexual violence.  Her testimony in court was noteworthy in the context of today’s political climate.  Just this year, President Trump had supported Bill O’Reilly, who was fired from Fox News Channel after a $13 million settlement to resolve five sexual harassment cases.  Reports indicated that despite his disgraceful exit, O’Reilly likely received a multimillionaire payout from his former employer.  In light of these events, following a bruised presidential campaign and the surprising assent to power of a President who boasted about groping women on videotape, it is important to address the issue of consent: what it is, why it’s important, and what actions to take in moving forward.  Sexual assault survivors do not excoriate Donald Trump for his profanity or politically incorrect language; we denounce him for the actions he has admitted to committing – misconducts for which he will not be legally sanctioned, and crimes toward which enough Americans were apathetic and voted to elect him to the White House regardless.

Despite the appalling national statistics that 1 in 5 women have been raped at some point in their lives, and 1 in 21 men reported being forced to engage in sex with someone, it is clear that based on the tumultuous election results that enough Americans either do not view sexual assault as a pressing issue or do not understand the meaning of consent.  A person’s body is never anyone else’s.  Not when they’re drunk, not when they’re passed out, not when they’re sober.  Not when they’re married, not when they’re in a relationship, not when they’re single.  Not when they’re wearing a burka, not when they’re wearing plunging neckline dresses, not when they’re nude.  Not. Ever.  Psychological distress resulting from sexual violence can be traumatizing; in the aftermath of the election, survivors have suffered from flashbacks, panic attacks, and other mental health issues.

In my discussions with those new to affirmative consent, some have maintained that requiring such consent reduces passion in the bedroom, as though passion is a legitimate reason for why people should be permitted to seize something that is not theirs.  Just as we do not absolve a mercenary for passionately pilfering money from a bank, we too do not condone anyone who passionately fondles or thrusts themselves into someone else’s body without consent.  Moreover, the word “yes” has historically been deemed as one of the most erotic words in the English language.  There is no legitimate justification for lack of affirmative consent.

Others have suggested that women should learn to protect themselves against those who fail to obtain affirmative consent, as though sexual assault survivors are “playing victim.”  Raising awareness of a significant issue is not victimization.  Furthermore, while it may be a sound idea for people to learn to guard themselves (since there are no shortages of criminals in the U.S.), it is never the legal or ethical burden of anyone to purchase mace, register for exorbitant self-defense courses, or spend time (which they can use to pursue other passions) to learn how to defend themselves against felons.  The culpability lies on and only on criminals who confiscate what isn’t theirs without requesting consent.

Sexual assault is not acceptable even if some women are apathetic to the problem.  It is not acceptable if some men supposedly cannot physically restrain themselves (on the contrary, research indicates that sexual violence is rarely a crime of passion because it involves non-sexual needs including hostility, control, and aggression) It is not acceptable at any time or any place.

As VOICE Representatives, we espouse that girls and women are human beings, not sex objects to be conquered or exploited. We acknowledge that boys and men can also be victims of sexual violence.  We recognize that freedom of speech should never be employed to intensify bigotry or antipathy, under the ploy of candor.  We seek to prevent sexual violence on university campus through peer education, to advertise mental health services for survivors, and to treat survivors with the dignity and respect that everyone deserves.  In an unprecedented era when the American populace elects a President accused of sexual assault and federal protections for sexual assault survivors are being rescinded, it is even more paramount that both students and faculty join our mission in raising awareness of this issue, devising methods to prevent sexual violence, and alleviating mental health symptoms of survivors.