Respect at Swinburne.
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Consent is about saying “yes” and about respecting and accepting a person’s right to say “no”. Consent is required at any stage of being intimate with someone – asking for a dance, a date, to make out – and at any point in a relationship, whether you’ve just met or you’ve been going steady since the dawn of time.
Affirmative consent is when the verbal and physical cues a person is giving you show that they are comfortable, consenting and keen to continue. It’s all about the proactive asking and giving of consent between people. A “no” is still a ‘no’, but the absence of an enthusiastic and ongoing “yes” is a ‘no’ as well.
Every person has the right to choose to have sex the way they want, and to make that choice freely every time without feeling pressured due to their circumstances or out of fear of repercussions. Saying “yes” to a kiss or allowing your partner to touch you, caress you, take your top off etc. does not imply a yes to everything.
The most basic thing to remember is that consent is voluntary, enthusiastic and continuous.
If someone does something to you that you don’t want, for example, coercing you into sex when you’ve said – or were unable to say – no, then that’s non-consensual sex.
But what does ‘without consent’ really mean? Being bullied, tricked or intimidated with words or violence into having sex or physical contact is coercive control and that’s non-consensual; so is having sex with someone who cannot clearly and freely give consent. This category includes minors (under the age of 16), people who are intoxicated, passed out or asleep, as well as those with a mental impairment that may inhibit them from being fully aware of what they are agreeing to.
The term ‘rape culture’ can sound pretty extreme and it elicits all kinds of responses, whether it’s scoffs of anger about the terminology and what it represents, or a deep sigh at the state of things. But what does the term mean? Rape culture is used to describe the environment where sexual violence is normalised and excused – that it’s “just the way things are”.
Rape culture is perpetuated through media and pop-culture by use of misogynistic language and jokes, the objectification of women’s bodies and the glamorisation of violence, creating a culture that ignores women’s rights and safety and makes sexual coercion seem normal. Why is it so dangerous? Because it reinforces the continuum of sexual violence, starting with so called “jokes”, and finishing with rape and murder.
MYTHS & RAPE CULTURE
Phrases like “she asked for it” or “boys will be boys” are examples of rape culture; so too are attitudes based on gender stereotypes – that being a ‘man’ means you should be dominant and aggressive; that being a ‘woman’ means you need to be submissive and sexually passive; that men ought to score and women ought to be nice and not act so cold. Accepting rape myths only helps to create environments in which many individuals – women, people with disabilities, members of the LGBTQIA+ community – are disempowered.
Rape culture is tasking victims with the burden of rape prevention. Rape culture is encouraging women to learn self-defence as though that is the only solution required to prevent rape. Rape culture is warning women to “learn common sense” or “be more responsible” or “avoid these places” or “don’t dress this way”; failing to caution men to not rape. – Melissa McEwan, Rape Culture 101
The legacy of rape culture and victim blaming affects everyone, but let’s focus on women as an example. Although most males are decent humans and thankfully many females are never the victims of rape, the existence of sexual assault and rape in our community means women do change their behaviour, whether it’s learnt (“don’t go out wearing that”) or out of fear (“I should get home before it’s too dark”). 50% of Australian women for example, don’t feel comfortable walking a short distance home after a night out for fear of being harassed or assaulted, whereas a guy more than likely would (79.2%).
Being on the receiving end of ‘locker room talk’, up skirting, catcalls, stalking, all the way to coercion, harassment and sexual violence can happen to our students. So who are we kidding? Let’s all try to be better humans and speak up instead of staying silent. Let’s put a stop to the behaviour that normalises rape culture.
Sexual Assault is a criminal offence and covers many different types of sexual behaviour that can be understood as unwanted or forced, including:
- Indecent Assault – unwanted touching, fondling, masturbation
- Rape – unwanted oral, anal or vaginal penetration, and
- Sexual Harassment – unwanted repeated sexualised comments, “passes”, dirty jokes, sexual questions.
Sexual assault is a violation of trust; an exploitation of vulnerability and an abuse of power that can happen to anyone regardless of race, gender, sexuality, religion or disability. Sexual violence does not always include physical touch. It might involve, but is not limited to, coercion, manipulation, grooming or other non-physical acts of a sexual kind that make a person feel unsafe.
This is not an exhaustive list of common myths surrounding sexual assault.
Sexual harassment is any unwanted or unwelcome sexual behaviour where a reasonable person, having regard for all the circumstances, would have anticipated that the person harassed might feel offended, humiliated or intimidated. It can be a form of discrimination against the victim, and is an inappropriate assertion of power by the perpetrator. Sexual harassment can occur in person or online. Common examples include:
- making unwanted remarks regarding a person’s appearance or attractiveness
- asking a person questions about their relationship or sex life
- sending emails with sexual content
- showing a person pornographic pictures on a phone or computer
- unnecessarily touching the person without their consent
Sexual harassment in the context of school or work can seem pretty straight-forward (we know what’s appropriate and what’s not) but when it comes to meeting people ‘out’ and building relationships, signs can be misread and faux pas made. In any environment, it is important that you assess the situation. If you feel you are in danger, take immediate precautions. If you believe that the person approaching you has simply overstepped their bounds or lacked the ability to read the room (and you); let them know that their behaviour was not okay and that they made you feel uncomfortable. If at any point you think that the comment or behaviour of any individual constitutes sexual harassment and you want to report it, you can do so by contacting the services on the right.
An active bystander is someone who, when noticing a situation that concerns them, does something about it – they are everyday superheroes. This might be similar to the scenario mentioned on the previous page; maybe you’re looking out for your friends, maybe you’re calling them out when they are making an offensive comment towards another person. Each situation is different, but there are some basic things you can do in any scenario:
Interpreting an event as a problem requires judgement on your part, but as a guide, question whether the situation at hand makes you feel uncomfortable. Would you behave the same way? Would this kind of behaviour be okay if it were occurring to a friend or family member? If you are unsure about positively answering these questions, or the answer makes you feel uncomfortable, chances are this is a situation for intervention.
This is perhaps the hardest step; deciding to step up. In difficult situations we often assume that someone else will do something – surely the woman at the club has friends who will come to her aid – but if we all assume someone else will step in, nothing will happen.
There are a number of different ways to intervene and step in – either directly or indirectly – just remember to be respectful and mindful of your own safety and theirs in whatever approach you take, whether you decide to act in the moment or check-in with the person concerned after the fact to see how they feel.
Choosing to not participate in a negative conversation or calling-out bad behaviour; derailing an incident from occurring by distracting the would-be perpetrator (i.e. ask for the time, directions, what drink they’re having); offering assistance to the victim by listening or helping them to report the incident – these are just some of the ways you can intervene and be an active bystander.
Why it can sometimes be difficult
Being an active bystander can be challenging at times – with great power comes great responsibility.
For starters, we all fall victim to apathy at times. You might fail to notice an incident is occurring due to noise or other sensory distractions (i.e. looking down at your phone), or you might find it difficult to judge whether an incident such as the woman in the aforementioned club is at ‘high-risk’ or not – what if you misread the signs?
Research suggests that our judgement is sometimes influenced by the myths we mentioned earlier. What we have to remember is that these myths are false – wearing provocative clothing does not constitute sexual availability, for example. Research also shows that people are less likely to help in situations where the perception of ‘need’ is ambiguous. The trick is to be present and notice what is occurring around you, and to learn to be critical of our own perceptions and attitudes of others.
Second, you might feel uncertain about how to best intervene. You might not feel physically equipped to step in, or you might find the whole experience embarrassing, awkward or scary.
The thing to remember is that looking out for someone is nothing to be embarrassed about. It demonstrates empathy and concern. Being an active bystander does not always require you confront the situation yourself. You can contribute to defusing the situation by informing someone in a position of authority that an incident might be occurring – bar staff or campus security for example.