What is consent?

What is consent? By now, I would hope that most of us have come to understand the parameters of this concept — especially given recent media and news coverage, and the ongoing #metoo movement. But unfortunately, I had to learn first hand that that wasn’t the case. 

This isn’t my first #metoo story, or even my second. But this is the most recent, involves online dating apps, and because of how old I am now and aware I am of the world around me, and the situation itself — it is the scariest. The reason that I am sharing this because I want to talk about the nuances of consent, and underscore that as the victim – there is no right response in this sort of situation. I’m not looking for sympathy — but instead hope that my story can bring comfort to someone else.

The first thing I’ve been kicking myself in the butt for is allowing myself to take the dating app seriously, after I had already given up using dating apps. If you follow me on Instagram, you’d know that I still have my accounts, and just entertain myself by identifying creeps that use fake photos and then report them to the app. Just your regular, low-key catfish detective. But I landed on someone that was real, despite their fishy looking photos — and the hopeless romantic, and frankly, the loneliness in me swiped right. 

**Trigger warning: sexual assault

instincts

The details in-between that are inconsequential, but trust was built. And because of that trust, I eventually accepted an invitation to hangout at his apartment. Now, in my own personal interest, I do not wish to go into specifics – what matters is this: I was sexually assaulted by this man and his roommate. 

Out of fear of encountering further physically harm, by two men that could easily overpower me, I let it happen. When it was over, they offered me a glass of wine. I refused, despite their begging. Part of me was scared that there was something in the drink. 

When the opportunity presented itself I quickly dressed, they began to beg me to stay, and it started to come off a bit aggressively. On my feet with my bag in hand, I smiled and insisted I was tired and needed to get home. I didn’t want to appear afraid or upset, so that they would just let me leave peacefully. I let myself out, and then found myself running down the stairs and to my car. 

I drove home. I took a long, hot shower. But I didn’t react. I didn’t reach out to anyone. Instead I was angry at myself. I consider myself an advocate of women’s rights, I’ve written about related topics before, I’ve told myself that I would verbally say ‘no,’ and that I would fight back if I ever found myself here. But I hadn’t done that. It’s really hard for me to take my own advice, or consider what I know to rationally be true – to be applicable to me. So in writing this, I am also writing to myself, to let me know that I did nothing wrong. 

Defining consent

First things, first. Consent. At its simplest, consent is an agreement between participants to engage in sexual activity. Here are some important tenets of consent: 

  • Giving consent for one activity, does not mean giving consent to another, or to recurring sexual contact
  • You can change your mind at any time if you want to stop
  • Clothing, flirting, or kissing is not an invitation for anything more
  • If you are under the legal age of consent defined by the state, you cannot consent
  • Consent can not be obtained if someone is incapacitated because of drugs or alcohol or if they are passed out
  • Consent after insistent pressuring using fear or intimidation is not consent – this also comes into play when power dynamics are involved
  • Saying yes or giving into something because of any form of fear is not consent
  • Having an existing relationship does not imply consent
  • Silence is not consent

Now this is not exhaustive. But at its core, consent is not implied or assumed, and it can not be obtained through pressure or force. 

I will also say that consent can also apply to simply being touched. I once found myself in a bar, just trying to hang out with my girlfriends – and this man came up to talk to me. I told him I was here to have fun with my friends. At this point, he started touching my arm and the small of my back. I immediately said, “did I say you can touch me?” To which he responded, “you know you like it.” I had to literally get in his face and yell at him to get him to back-off. He then proceeded to tell my friends that I was a bitch. Cream of the crop, huh? 

The fact of the matter is this. This is my body, and no one is entitled to it other than me. No one gets to have power over it except me. 

You did nothing wrong

But I froze this past weekend. I evaluated the situation, and I felt the best thing I could do was just let it happen. And here’s the thing. You get to do whatever you need to do to get out of and survive an assault. You have done nothing wrong. There is no “correct,” or “better” response. This should have never happened to you, and if it does I am sorry. Truly sorry. But I am proud of you. I am proud of you if you survived, and I am proud of you if tragically you did not. And too often, the latter happens. 

I am still processing this. And I am not looking for sympathy. And I will also offer this — there is no correct way to process this either. You may feel angry, or sad, or scared, or just numb. You may be in shock. You may cry, you may not cry. You may get law enforcement involved, you may not. You may tell someone, and you may not. You have every permission to process this how you need to. 

Please, if this does ever  happen, or has happened to you — I encourage you to use some of the resources below, when you are ready. Thanks for listening. 

Resources

Columbus, Ohio Specific resources

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