By: Noa Lindsay Hahn, Sexual Violence Prevention Task Force
Does the absence of “no” mean yes? Many activists and advocates for consent use the phrase, “No Means No,” but what about nuanced situations where consent is not explicitly given? In 2014, California became the first state to define consent as “an affirmative, unambiguous, and conscious decision by each participant to engage in mutually agreed-upon sexual activity” (pbs.org). In short, there is no consent without a clear and enthusiastic yes, and that consent can be withdrawn at any time. In the age of #MeToo, the language around consent has become even more nuanced. Last January, a 23-year-old photographer went public about a date with comedian, Aziz Ansari, that didn’t go as planned. The photographer described going back to Ansari’s apartment after dinner and engaging in sexual activity that made her feel uncomfortable. The catch? She never explicitly said “no” (babe.net). When I read about the Ansari allegations last January, I relived through my past experiences with men and realized that many of them could’ve been considered “total Aziz encounters,” all because I never explicitly said no. At times, I hadn’t had the tools to advocate for myself and my boundaries, and countless people had misunderstood my silence as consent. These experiences I’ve had may not have been sexual assault, yet they were not consensual according to the “Yes Means Yes” definition of consent.
In order to move forward, we must change the language we use around consent, particularly in our school districts. In the state of Missouri, where I live, public schools aren’t required to teach sexuality education, and when school districts choose to do so, the quality is poor at best. I go to the best public school in St. Louis, yet our three-day sexuality education program never even covered consent or healthy relationships, leaving us to navigate our romantic and sexual interactions alone. By adopting “Yes Means Yes” instead of “No Means No,” we arm ourselves and our peers with the proper skills to engage in encounters that are both healthy and safe.