Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Let's Talk About "Consent"

Photo: Pioneer Press: Scott Takushi
Last evening, I heard on the local news that the freshman class at the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities was moving into dorm rooms this week. In the next 10 days, each and every one of the freshman class must complete satisfactorily an online class from the University about sexual violence, consent, and drinking. While I was heartened to hear that freshmen needed to complete this online class, I wondered why the other classes weren't require to repeat it each year also.

This morning came the news that Brock Turner, the Stanford University student convicted of felony rape this past March will be released from jail this week after only 3 months of a measly 6-month sentence. He could have received a sentence of 14 years in prison. The judge in this case, Aaron Persky, revealed his sympathy for Turner which really horrified me. Where was his impartiality? What about the young woman Turner raped? She must live with that violation and trauma for the rest of her life. It will color her sexuality and her sexual life for the rest of her life. Didn't Judge Persky care about that? Also, does Stanford University have an online class about sexual violence, consent, and drinking that its students must complete at the beginning of each year?

Brock Turner (Photo: Santa Clara County Sheriff via AP)

Yesterday, I also happened to read a blog post by Doug Muder at The Weekly Sift this past June 13. The post is a round-up of news from the previous week, and Muder addresses the Brock Turner case, "and that rape case," about two-thirds of the way through the post. I really liked Muder's thinking, and he states much more clearly than anyone else I've heard or read what consent is in any situation.  He begins:

"At the trial, Turner claimed the woman consented, which seems hard to square with her being unconscious."
Then Muder writes that when we talk about sex, consent becomes tricky. However, I was taught, as are most women I'd guess, that if we say "No" or if we say "stop" at any time during a romantic or sexual encounter, the guy should stop. If he doesn't stop, then it's rape. In the last few years, we've seen more and more cases of young men, often in college, who use alcohol or Rohypnol, the tranquilizer also called "Roofie" or the date rape drug, to incapacitate young women so they cannot say no or stop. In other words, these young men have learned that in order to be able to have sex with a young woman, the young woman needs to be pliable and under their control. If she's passed out, asleep, or unconscious, so much the better. The whole notion of "consent" doesn't seem to enter into the equation for these young men only to have power over the young women so they can have sex. In other words, they don't seem to know, comprehend or understand that in order to have sex with another human being, the other human being must, must, give consent to it. No exceptions.

Where did these young men learn this? Where did they get the sense of entitlement that they could do as they wished with the body of another human being without the other person's consent? And that it was OK to incapacitate a young woman in order to have sex without her consent?

I love what Muder writes next in his post, because he talks about consent in terms of a financial transaction:

"For example, imagine I ask you for money and you say no. If I then take your wallet, I’m a thief. It doesn’t matter at all whether you’ve given me money in the past, or if you’ve been giving money to lots of other guys. Maybe your jeans are so tight that the wallet in your pocket is totally obvious, leaving nothing to my imagination. Maybe hundred dollar bills are hanging out of your blouse pocket. Maybe we’re both drunk and you pass out before you get done turning me down. None of that matters. If you never said “Here, take my money” I’m a thief."
Do you suppose that young men today would understand consent better if put in those terms?  In other words, it's not consent if the other person is unconscious and cannot say no or stop.  The transaction for sex needs to occur with both parties able to understand what they are doing, and what the consequences are, and able to actually say "yes" or "no." Both sides.

I wonder if Judge Persky understands that himself? I certainly do not understand how he could be so much more sympathetic for Brock Turner over the young woman he raped. I wonder if Judge Persky understands that this could quite possibly be the reason that reasonable people have been outraged by the sentence he handed Turner. Persky in effect told Turner what he did was no big deal, that there are no major consequences to his actions, in spite of the law.

Personally, I'd like to see an online class about what sexual violence is, consent, and drinking for seniors in high school. And I'd like to see parents teaching their kids to respect each other from an early age, no matter gender or sexual orientation. When kids are brought up to feel entitled, which seems to be the case for males still in American society, when they are in fact not entitled, that sets those kids up for something terrible when they enter the world as young adults. 

Parents are the primary teachers of morality and behavior, right? Schools and churches and society reinforce what parents teach. According to a letter Turner's father wrote to the court in defense of his son, he wrote, "His life will never be the one that he dreamed about and worked so hard to achieve.... That is a steep price to pay for 20 minutes of action out of his 20 plus years of life.” Wow. Why wasn't Mr. Turner talking about his son's terrible judgment, his terrible choice, and how they were going to affect another human being for the rest of her life? That his 20-minute action has serious consequences? That he's not terribly happy with that 20-minute action?  Mr. Turner demonstrated in his letter where his son's poor judgment and choice came from. But that shouldn't excuse Brock Turner from the consequences of being convicted of felony rape and sentenced to 14 years in prison like anyone else convicted of the same charge.

I would like all parents and teens to read the victim's statement that she read in court to her assailant, Brock Turner. It should be part of any class about sexual assault, consent, and drinking. This is what happens to a victim of sexual assault. The assault is not only physical, but also psychological, emotional, and spiritual. 

Rape has been, and continues to be, a huge social issue in our society despite some progress in establishing women's rights as human beings. Clearly more needs to be done. Will the online class at the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities be enough?


cheryl (clee') said...

You will be happy to know that the mandatory online class is required of ALL students at post-secondary institutions. The statute was just passed in the last legislative session. I have been back at the U of M finishing my degree the past 3 years, and had never had to take the class until this summer when I received an email request to do so.

Gina said...

I AM happy to learn that! Thanks for posting that information.