Tag Archives: consent

Your child should never be forced to hug anyone (yes, including a relative) – here are 7 reasons why, via Everyday Feminism:

(Content Warnings: incest, rape, and sexual violence)

Two of my good friends had their first baby late this past year.

From the get-go, Baby was a cuddly little girl. (Or, as her two moms say, “We assume she’s a girl, but we won’t know for sure until she tells us herself.”) She was all about being held and being rocked – and crying her head off the moment anybody dared to put her down. She wanted contact with all the people ever.

But in the past couple of months, it seems she’s had a serious change of heart.

When some of us were over for a visit, Baby suddenly wanted none of it. Passed from one person to the next, she wailed like a banshee until finally given back to one of her moms, where she instantly quieted.

“Don’t take it personally,” Mama said to everyone, bouncing Baby. “She’s just entering that stage where she’s developing some healthy stranger danger.”

And so the new process emerged: One of us would attempt to hold Baby every once in a while. And if she cried for more than 20 seconds, we’d hand her back to one of her moms.

If Baby didn’t want to be held by certain people, Baby didn’t have to be held by certain people.

It was as simple as that – and something her moms are determined to keep in place as Baby gets older.

Seeing them regard their child like that was admittedly an eye-opening experience for me. I’d grown up in a world where you hugged relatives or family friends no matter what. To deny them was considered a huge sign of disrespect, and nothing was worse than disrespecting someone older than you.

It was icky, as my six-year-old self would say.

To be fair, I recognize the reasons why some parents or guardians would want to—shall we say—enthusiastically encourage their children to hug relatives and family friends. Hugs are positive, right? They instill trust, good will, and healthy connections to the people closest to you, right?

Of course they do – when they’re given consensually. And even four-year-olds have bodily autonomy, and therefore, the right to consent (or not).

Dear parents et al, I understand where you’re coming from, and your intentions are innocent and well-meaning.

But here are a few reasons why forcing your child to hug another person can be a bad idea.

1. It Teaches Your Child That They Don’t Have Control Over Their Own Bodies

This is particularly relevant for female-presenting people.

In our patriarchal world of the male gaze and body policing and sexual assault, it’s hugely important to teach girls (as well as everyone else) that it’s never okay to be made to touch another person when you don’t want to.

The message doesn’t even have to be in a sexual context.

A person’s body is their own body.

They can do what they want with it.

They can pierce it and tattoo it and color its hairs and fill it with organic vegan cheese and drown it in bourbon and jump it out of an airplane with a parachute and turn its penis into a vulva and run it 14 miles every morning and have it sleep until noon and draw little smiley faces on its fingers for impromptu puppets.

Seriously. Whatever you want. People shouldn’t care, and you shouldn’t care about them caring. Yay everyone!

But when something such as being forced to hug (or be hugged by) people at a young age, we’re instilling the message that our bodies are never our own.

Instead, we’re saying that a person is everyone else’s physical and political property.

And that’s not cool.

2. It Implies That You (Or Adults in General) Have the Right to Touch Your Child How They Want, When They Want

Chilling, no? But it’s pretty simple logic:

  1. Child is told to hug So-And-So.
  2. Child expresses some manner of decline, hesitation, or rejection at the idea of hugging So-And-So.
  3. Child is guilted, shamed, belittled, manipulated, or otherwise made to feel forced to hugSo-And-So.
  4. Child hugs So-And-So.
  5. Child feels like shit for being reprimanded over not wanting to hug So-And-So and still ended up having to hug So-And-So.
  6. Child says to self, “It would behoove me in the ongoing future to stop resisting said hugging, seeing as how it doesn’t work and only makes matters worse. Resisting touch equals reprimand. I daresay this is an epiphany of biblical proportions.”

Or something like that. You get the idea.

Adults are the authority figures in a child’s life. This is a necessary, natural state of being because honestly, who else is going to show them the ropes?

But make sure you’re showing them the right ropes.

Having legal possession over a child doesn’t mean they’re your property. It means they’re your responsibility.

By forcing a child to hug, you’re telling them “Yes, I’m in charge here, which means you have to do everything I say.”

Sorry, but no.

You’re in charge here, which means it’s your job to make sure that the kid grows up to be the most functioning adult they’re capable of being.

See the difference?

3. It Tells Them That Relatives Can’t Be Abusers

I know this to be true because it 100% happened to me. My grandfather was a most unfortunate creature, and his sexual violence toward me started when I was ridiculously young. It continued on for several years, undetected the entire time, in part because of this whole hugging issue.

You see, it was cyclical for me.

Not only was I forced to hug my rapist in front of people on a regular basis – which I’m damn sure he got an additional sick sense of pleasure from – but one of the reasons I never told anybody about the sexual violence was because I assumed behaviors such as the forced hugging meant that the violence was also acceptable for him to do.

He was a relative, and relatives couldn’t be abusers.

Why else would forced contact be so widespread amongst families? He even manipulated the entire issue in his favor with such simple phrases as “It’s just like hugging.”

Made sense to me.

For the record, I’m not saying that it means a child has been abused by a given person when they refuse to hug that person. There are all sorts of reasons they may not want to hug someone, plenty of them benign.

A child not wanting to hug someone because that person hurt them is – I hope – still a less-than-likely occurrence. But the fact remains that situations like mine do happen.

And while I’ve never believed the hugging issue in itself somehow caused the assaults – abuse is always, always the fault of the abuser themselves – it would’ve at least been nice to not have been forced to fake innocent, childlike affection for him in public, confusing the hell out of my sense of right and wrong the whole while.

4. It Disregards Your Child’s Comfort Zone

I implied this in above points, but I’ll say it outright now: Your child is not your Mini Me. They’re their own person, however developing and in-training they may be emotionally, mentally, or physically.

Which for this article means that their comfort zone may vary from yours.

Hugs may not mean the same to them as they do to you. Please respect that.

5. It Risks Dismantling Their Natural, Healthy Sense of Stranger Danger

I’m actually not a fan of the term “stranger danger” since it can accidentally imply that all strangers are bad and all non-strangers are good, but I’m going with it since it’s a term I’m confident most people are familiar with.

But as a refresher, “stranger danger” is pretty much when your brain goes, “Uhh… I don’t want that person near me.” And then you often respond to your brain’s message by doing what you can to politely avoid said person.

It’s meant to be a survival tactic.

Growing up, your senses are meant to develop in a way that subconsciously tells you when you might be in danger.

Of course, this can go sour in all sorts of ways, a great example being white people feeling stranger danger when they cross a black man on the sidewalk at night. Many white people automatically want to cut to the other side of the street not because they’ve ever been hurt by a black man before, but because they were raised in a racist society or otherwise have instilled many of the negative, sensationalized messages portrayed by the media.

These survival misfires can also happen with children and hugging.

In the instance of a child being forced to hug an adult even when they don’t want to, they learn to not always trust their gut instincts when it comes to their safety, their surroundings, and the people they don’t know very well or are meeting for the first time.

Essentially, it’s a child’s brain saying, “Ack! Something that’s making us uncomfortable! Hold for safety confirmation before engaging in said hug!” And the adults are saying, “Screw confirmation. Just hug Second Cousin Gertrude, for chrissake.”

You may know that Gertrude is fine and dandy, but your child needs to learn that for themselves. They need to make that decision on their own.

6. It Ignores Any Important, Subtle Cues Your Child Is Trying to Tell You

As I said before, a child not wanting to hug an adult could be a purely innocent thing, the child doing nothing more than learning about the world through trial and error.

However, not wanting to hug could possibly mean that something more is going on. The relative or family friend could have hurt the child in the past intentionally (assault) or accidentally (stepped on their hand while crossing the room).

Or done something to frighten them, like telling them a scary story or not realizing dressing like a vampire for Halloween made the child think they really were a vampire. (And let’s be fair: They could be. Have you witnessed any sparkling?)

Or the child has somehow made a connection between the person and something they don’t like, such as the person smelling like Brussel sprouts.

There are all sorts of scenarios.

And while the child responding to something like assault is certainly up there with the most alarming possibilities, there are also such no-hug cues as the early signs of autism or Asperger’s syndrome, which can involve an aversion to touch.

When a child rejects a hug either from one adult or several, feel free to sit them down and gently ask if there’s any reason they didn’t want to hug them.

It could very well be nothing, but in the event that it isn’t, it’s better for your child’s health if you find out sooner rather than later.

7. It Sends the Message That Hugging (Or Physical Contact in General) Is the Only Way to Show Affection or Appreciation for Another Person

We as a culture simply need to stop drilling into our own heads that there are only a select few ways to show love for another human being.

Families don’t need hugs in order to count as families, friendships don’t need high fives to pledge loyalty, and romantic relationships don’t need sex to be considered serious.

Are these things nice to give and receive? Sure. But only if both parties actually want them.

Such things only hold so much affection weight because we’ve given them that weight ourselves.

To someone who doesn’t want it, an affectionate action is rendered meaningless at best and damaging at worst.

Forcing hugging on a child tells them that 1) they’re expected to show affection toward this person, and 2) that this is exactly how they must show that affection.

Instead of being a hug tyrant, allow your child to be creative in how they show affection. Let them draw a picture or share a piece of their favorite food or read to you from their library book.

Those gestures count just as much as a hug. And your child needs to be validated in that fact.

***

To sum, could Grandma’s feelings be hurt because Little Susie wouldn’t hug her? Possibly.

But her hurt feelings don’t outweigh the risky lessons Little Susie may internalize if she’s made to touch someone she doesn’t want to touch.

I don’t care how wise and worldly and awesome Grandma is. Her wants are not more important than Little Susie’s.

Children are people with developing brains and emotions and behaviors. They’re not stuffed animals.

Adults, on the other hand, are full-grown, experienced people who should be able to rationally understand and accept the nature of a child that isn’t interested in a hug.

So when your child comes in contact with such a situation, let them know that it’s okay if they don’t want to hug someone.

Repeat it to the person your child didn’t want to hug, especially if their feelings seem hurt over the matter.

And to anybody who in turn has had their feelings hurt by a kid rejecting them, I can only echo the wisdom of my two friends.

“Don’t take it personally.”

James St. James is a Contributing Writer for Everyday Feminism. He isn’t particularly fond of his name, but he has to admit it makes him easier to remember. When he’s not busy scaring cis gender people with his trans gender agenda, he likes to play SEGA and eat candy. Follow him on Twitter @JamesStJamesVI.

Teaching consent at a younger age

Government plans sex consent lessons for 11-year-olds, via BBC News UK:

Children from the age of 11 are to be taught about sexual consent under new government plans.

The government said it wanted to give young people a “better understanding of the society around them” so they could “make informed choices and stay safe”.

Education Secretary Nicky Morgan said there were “unimaginable pressures” for young people growing up.

The lessons are planned for mixed and single-sex state and independent schools in every part of England.

Healthy relationships ‘crucial’

The plans are being drawn up by the Personal, Social, Health and Economic Education (PSHE) Association, an organisation set up in 2006 to oversee PSHE teaching.

The introduction to the draft document, which is due to be launched this year, says young people should be taught about consent before they are sexually active.

It says learning about healthy relationships is “crucial” to keeping those under the age of 16 who are sexually active “healthy and safe from abuse and exploitation”.

The document added that “recognising that some young people will be sexually active before the age of 16 does not equate to encouraging underage sexual activity”.

Speaking on the Murnaghan programme on Sky News, Mrs Morgan said it was right to explore issues around consent “in an age-appropriate way”.

She said: “We’ve seen this week with the issues about child sexual exploitation that growing up today is difficult and I think there are unimaginable pressures – compared to when I was growing up – on young people, particularly on girls.

“And I do think it’s right, again in an age-appropriate way, that issues around consent, when consent is given, when it is not given, when something goes way beyond the boundaries, who do you report to, it is important. And I know schools want to have the confidence and the tools to teach that well.”

‘Inadequacy’ of action

A DfE spokesman said “good PSHE teaching” gave young people a better understanding of the society around them and supported them to “make informed choices and stay safe”.

They added: “We are ensuring teachers have high-quality resources and appropriate support and guidance so they can tackle the issues facing young people today.

“We will also raise the status of PSHE to recognise those schools which are already providing pupils with a well-rounded curriculum and ensure all parents can be confident their child’s school is providing a curriculum for life.”

However, while the PSHE Association welcomed Mrs Morgan highlighting its plans, it said it was “deeply disappointed” the government had not responded to an Education Select Committee recommendation to make PSHE a statutory part of the curriculum.

Joe Hayman, chief executive of the PSHE Association, said: “Without this change, topics like consent will continue to be squeezed from school timetables and taught by untrained teachers.

“Given that five recent child sexual exploitation inquiries have all highlighted the need for schools to teach pupils how to keep themselves and others safe, the inadequacy of government action on this area is surprising and deeply disappointing.”

College is too late to start teaching students about sexual assault, by Jessica Valenti, via The Guardian:

There are some essential life skills that high schools know they have to teach students. That’s why most offer classes like woodshop, home economics and drivers education. So I have to ask: Given that we’re keen to teach teenagers the basics they need to function in society, why do we still have no mandated education around rape?

Expecting high schoolers to fully grasp what sexual assault is without comprehensive education is ridiculous. Politicians still routinely demonstrate their ignorance around rape, the FBI only changed its outdated definition of sexual assault in 2011, and even the courts regularly muck up rape cases.

And while it’s wonderful that more and more universities are creating sexual assault orientations and mandating courses on consent, by the time young people reach college (assuming they go at all) it’s often too late. Nearly half of American teenagers are sexually active by the time they’re 17 years old and 44% of sexual assault victims are under 18 years old.

Earlier this month, Senators Claire McCaskill and Tim Kaine introduced the Teach Safe Relationships Act, which would mandate sexual assault and violence prevention education in high school. But we need more than a guarantee that rape will be talked about – we need a national standard for how it’s discussed. Victim-blaming, confusion around what the definition of rape is, and terrible ideas about how to stop assault all show that there’s too much misinformation around sexual assault.

We can’t have abstinence-only education enthusiasts teaching the topic, for example. Rape victims – including kidnapping victim Elizabeth Smart – have said that receiving abstinence only education worsened their feelings of shame after being assaulted. (Curricula frequently teaches that young women are ‘dirty’ or ‘used’ after sex.) Some of the curricula even directly blames victims: In one popular textbook, for example, students are asked, “How do some people say NO with their words, but YES with their actions or clothing?

Considering the full-on backlash to ‘yes means yes’ laws and standards at universities, I don’t expect that a push to mandate similar education at the high school level would be met without opposition. But rape is not a talking point or a thought experiment. And now is the time – when ending sexual assault is a central part of the national conversation – that activists and legislators should be pushing for the most progressive, results oriented curricula possible for teens.

Young people need a clear understanding of what sexual assault is through a curriculum devised by experts, a comprehensive explanation of enthusiastic consent, and a roadmap for how to deal with a culture that victim-blames and is generally decades behind where it should be.

If most states require sex education for teens, and we continue the fight for medically accurate, non-religiously based sex education – we can certainly do the same for education on rape. If we can manage to have nearly every state pass an anti-bullying law and mandate education on the topic, we surely can gather up the same kind of support to end sexual assault and raise awareness. The question isn’t one of ability, but of will. Yes, it will be controversial and it will be an uphill battle. But if we want to truly stop rape before it happens and arm young people with the knowledge they need to deal with the reality of sexual assault – this is our only option.

“How To Snog Without Getting Hogwarts.” Boston University Offers Harry Potter Themed Sex-Ed Class, via The Huffington Post

Boston University is teaching students about safe sex and sexual health with a little bit of help from none other than wizard extraordinaire Harry Potter.

Last week, as part of “Frisky February,” a monthlong series of sexual health-related events at the university, students were invited to participate in “Sex-Ed at Hogwarts,” an interactive, “Harry Potter”-themed class about safe sex, consent and sexual health.

“At this event, half-bloods, house-elves, and muggles alike will learn the proper way to get consent to enter one’s chamber of secrets and how to snog without getting hogwarts,” said the event’s Facebook page. “We’ll be casting some sensual spells in CAS room 313. Hope you can apparate there.”

The class was the brainchild of Michelle Goode and Jamie Klufts, two graduate students who work as interns at the university’s Wellness and Prevention Services program. The duo, both avid Harry Potter fans, said that they hoped to use the magical world of the series as a launchpad to discuss important issues related to sex and sexuality.

“The goal is to use a creative lens to teach sexual health,” Klufts told the Daily Free Press. “Sexual health is often a topic that can provide a lot of discomfort, but by using Hogwarts and Harry Potter language, we hope to enlighten students and also make them more comfortable with learning about it. Additionally, it allows us to reach an audience that we may not have reached otherwise.”

According to the Boston Globe, Klufts and Goode came up with the idea for the Harry Potter-themed sex-ed class after realizing that author J.K. Rowling had missed a golden opportunity to educate her teen and young adult readers about sex when she chose to gloss over the topic in the series.

“[Sex education is] definitely a subject matter J.K. Rowling ignored in a major way,” Klufts told the Daily Free Press. “It’s highly unrealistic to believe that students of middle school and high school age aren’t thinking about sex or engaging in it, or at least coming to terms with their changing bodies and sexual health.”

Get Consent This Valentine’s Day

It’s almost Valentine’s Day, and that means that love, lust, romance, and sex are in the air. However, while one person may be hoping the evening ends in sex…the other person may not. So, let’s talk briefly about consent.

What is consent? According to the dictionary, it is “permission, approval, or agreement.” In regards to sexual activity, consent is an active, enthusiastic, ongoing “YES.”

The absence of a “no” is not consent; silence is not consent, the way a person dresses is not consent, and intoxication is not consent. Basically, we need to hear the word “yes” (willingly, not forced). Why? Because “yes” means “yes” (way to go, California, for passing that law!)

There will be a lot of dates this Valentine’s Day, and unfortunately, a lot of harmful myths about sex still linger. For example: “I bought you an expensive dinner, therefore, you owe me sex.” Nope, not true. Nobody owes another person sex for ANY reason. Whether you’re going on a first date, or you’re going on a date with somebody you’ve been with for a while, always remember to get consent before attempting to engage in any sexual activity. (Don’t worry, it won’t ruin the mood if both people are into it.)

PS: If you are single this Valentine’s Day, don’t forget to love yourself!

saparsvday

TV show Switched at Birth addresses campus sexual assault

ABC Family’s Campus Rape Story line Goes Where Scripted Television Hasn’t Gone Before, via BuzzFeed:

The anger directed at HBO’s The Newsroom in December in the wake of an episode that attempted to capitalize on the debate surrounding the scourge of college sexual assault crystallized the complexity of emotions surrounding the very complicated issue plaguing campuses nationwide. At the time, the Rolling Stone/UVA debacle was dominating headlines — a magazine story that was meant to serve as crusading journalism, peeling back the lid of insidious behavior at the Virginia university and bringing awareness of the situation to a larger audience, instead had the opposite effect as the story’s factual basis was attacked and the magazine backed away from supporting the writer. Any platform that the story could have provided rape victims — particularly those on college campuses — was undone, and the piece itself has become a watchword for reckless reporting and a lack of fact-checking. In the months that followed, the conversation continued, especially when two 2015 Sundance Film Festival projects dealt with campus rape: Kirby Dick’s The Hunting Ground and Morris May and Rose Troche’s interactive Perspective. There is something in the air at the moment — the discourse and epidemic are reaching a boiling point.

The latest entrée into the conversation is, on the surface, a surprising one: A teen television show waded into the murky waters of campus rape narratives in its Feb. 3 episode. But that teen series, ABC Family’s groundbreaking Switched at Birth, has never been one to shy away from potentially explosive issues of race, class, or the hearing/deaf divide (many of its main characters are deaf or hard-of-hearing and the show has embraced the use of American Sign Language and closed captioning). The teen drama, created by Lizzy Weiss, might have initially been about the ramifications of two families — one white and wealthy, the other Latina and struggling to get by — learning that their daughters had been switched at the hospital as babies. But in the four seasons since, it’s evolved into a canny exploration of communication, expression, and identity.

There’s a reason the particular issue of campus rape is one that is poignant forSwitched’s deaf and hard-of-hearing characters — and why it’s fitting now. Last year, the Washington Post ran a story about the climbing rates of campus rape and the belief among university administrators that “robust reporting” could contribute to preventing these crimes in the future. The university with the highest rates of reporting forcible sex offenses proved to be Gallaudet University, which saw “more than 11 per thousand students in 2012.” Gallaudet also happens to house the nation’s premier deaf education program, and the university’s dean of student affairs and academic support pointed toward the resources available — “direct access in terms of communication and language with on-campus personnel without requiring the need for an interpreter” — as the reason for the higher overall numbers and reporting rates.

Switched at Birth has long looked toward Gallaudet and deaf history and culture for inspiration for its storylines. Though it’s unclear whether the Post’s reporting played a role for Weiss and the writing staff in penning the Jan. 27 episode, the installment saw Bay Kennish (Vanessa Marano) waking up after a drunken night in the bed of her ex-boyfriend Tank (Max Adler), her clothes scattered on the floor. In the Feb. 3 episode, Bay struggles to recall the events of the night before, wondering whether she had cheated on her long-distance boyfriend, Emmett (Sean Berdy), by possibly drunkenly sleeping with her ex. But more troublingly, she is uncertain about whether she consented to having sex with Tank or not in the first place.

It’s Bay’s birth mother Regina (Constance Marie) who first utters the r-word — noting that if a woman is drunk, she cannot actually give consent, and that any consent given while impaired isn’t actually consent. It’s a shock to Bay, and to the viewer, really, to hear such an open discussion on such a controversial subject on a teen drama — but it’s important that this is a conversation happening on a show geared toward a younger demographic. All too often, rape gets swept under the rug or is used as a means to an end to look at victim culture or false accusations or something different altogether; on Switched, however, though it’s used for a narrative, it’s also instructive and educational. Regina’s lines are uttered with such certain sincerity that the moment, like many others on this series, isn’t saccharine or forced, but significant.

Typically, sexual assault storylines play out with strangers, their repercussions barely, if at all, glimpsed. A recent episode of The Good Wife looked at the epidemic through the lens of a college disciplinary board following a student accusing another of rape, taking its title (“The Red Zone”) from the most dangerous time of year for sexual assault against first-year female students. Alicia Florrick (Julianna Margulies), representing the victim, flicks at the specter of Title IX, saying that the university could open itself up to a lawsuit under the U.S. Code for gender discrimination in education. But the rape didn’t happen to Alicia’s son Zach (Graham Phillips) or her daughter Grace (Makenzie Vega) — and while the episode was powerfully rendered and meticulously constructed, there was an inherent narrative distance between the topic and the framework of the show; it was a case to be won or lost by Alicia, and while it drew upon real-life inspiration, it ultimately doesn’t change the direction of the show or any of the central characters.

That’s not the case with Switched at Birth. As Bay goes back and forth about whether she consented to sleep with Tank, the show shifts between each of their perspectives — hers increasingly inebriated, his equally drunk — which differ in small but meaningful ways. Did she kiss him? Did he kiss her? Did she push him away? And if she didn’t, did it mean that she was actually able to give her consent?When Bay confronts Tank about her lack of clarity regarding the events of the previous night, he is horrified by what she is implying: that he took advantage of her, that he assaulted her, that he raped her. They were both drunk, he bellows, and he would never do anything like that. Tank is not a stranger to Bay or the audience: He’s been presented previously as a “good guy.” Which is precisely the point.

The plot doesn’t wrap up neatly after one episode; in fact, there’s a simmering level of anger, fear, and distress that threatens to boil over in next week’sSwitched, even as Bay says she doesn’t want to do anything about what happened, that she just wants it to go away. But Bay’s brother Toby (Lucas Grabeel) — who is also Tank’s roommate — tells his girlfriend Lily (Rachel Shenton) about what happened… and Lily is an administrator at the university, meaning she has a legal obligation to bring the situation to the disciplinary board. It looks like Bay’s hope that this just goes away will soon be evaporating completely.

But that’s because this storyline is realistically messy and fraught — it’s painful and profound, showing a night that Bay deeply regrets. Of course, regretting that something happened does not mean accepting responsibility for it — andSwitched carefully threads its narrative here, placing the blame for what may have happened on Tank for having sex with Bay when she was clearly too drunk to actually give her legal consent.

That this is all playing out in a show that so many teenagers (and adults) are watching is important for so many reasons. The ultimate irony is that this ABC Family teen drama is doing a far better job of tackling this difficult topic than its allegedly more hard-hitting and award-winning adult counterparts — and that, thankfully, means those in the audience who may soon be college-bound themselves are actually watching.

Switched at Birth airs Tuesdays at 9 p.m. on ABC Family.

These 13-Year-Old Girls Want To Use Their Sex Ed Classes To Fight Rape Culture, via ThinkProgress

Two eighth graders in Toronto, Canada are pushing to overhaul their province’s sexual health curriculum to include more information about healthy relationships, saying that combating rape culture involves creating a “consent culture” among youth.

Tessa Hill and Lia Valente, both 13 years old, are asking the Ontario Ministry of Education to add consent education as a topic in the province’s health curriculum. In an attempt to accomplish that goal, they launched a petition on Change.org last week that’s garnered more than 2,000 signatures so far.

In a recent interview with Canada.com, the middle schoolers explained that they learned more about consent after being assigned to complete a school project on a social justice issue. They chose to explore “rape culture,” or the set of cultural assumptions that allows sexual assault to flourish by assuming that violence and forcible sex is a normal part of gender relations. That got them thinking about how more information about consensual sex could help address issues like cat-calling and slut-shaming, which they say they’ve witnessed in the hallways of their school.

“Our society is scared to teach teens and young people about safe sex, and most importantly, consent. Young people will have sex, despite teaching abstinence in the classroom, so the most important thing is to educate us and other young people about consent,” the petition reads. “When young people don’t learn about the importance of consent in a sexual relationship, it can lead to unhealthy relationships and ultimately perpetuates rape culture.”

Ontario’s current sex ed classes have been in place since the 1990s, and are widely considered to be the most outdated in the country. Education officials attempted to update them in 2010, but that project was shelved after pushback from social conservatives, who complained the proposed changes — like including information about masturbation and homosexuality — were too “explicit.”

Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne, the first openly gay head of government in Canada, has indicated that she wants to keep moving forward with the 2010 proposal. In December, she directed the Ministry of Education to rework the curriculum to include more information about healthy relationships. And last week, she tweeted that Hill and Valente are doing “important work” and she’d be happy to meet with them.

Similar efforts to update sex ed classes here in the United States are often met with resistance. In California, for instance, parents recently grew outraged after learning that their kids’ sex ed classes include information about gender identity and consent. Across the U.S., proponents of abstinence education have raised concerns about “X-rated” and “pornographic” sexual health classes that teach students about condoms and healthy relationships. Just as in Ontario, these objections often successfully prevent school districts from implementing the curriculum of their choice.

But young people are also increasingly fighting back and demanding medically accurate information in their health classes. Teens in Nevada recently held a rally to push back against their school district’s decision to drop comprehensive sex ed materials. A West Virginia high school student made national headlines for protesting against a “slut-shaming” abstinence education course. And last summer, a Canadian teen convinced her school to drop a course on sexual purity after she filed a human rights complaint against it.

Affirmative consent

Why you should practice affirmative consent: It’s healthy (and sexy), via The Bangor Daily News:

A few weeks ago, California Governor Jerry Brown signed a bill into law that compels California universities to use an “affirmative consent” standard when investigating campus sexual assaults. As Amanda Hess from Slate explains,

This means that during an investigation of an alleged sexual assault, university disciplinary committees will have to ask if the sexual encounter met a standard where both parties were consenting, with consent defined as “an affirmative, conscious and voluntary agreement to engage in sexual activity.” Notice that the words “verbal” or “stone sober” are not included in that definition. The drafters understand, as most of us do when we’re actually having sex, that sometimes sexual consent is nonverbal and that there’s a difference between drunk, consensual sex and someone pushing himself on a woman who is too drunk to resist.

Predictably, there was some concern about whether the state should be involved in the sex lives of college students. There was concern that the law will encourage false reports (of which there are only between 2-8 percent), and that false claims will skyrocket. As Gloria Steinem and Michael Kimmel pointed out in a recent New York Times op-ed, a similar law was enacted in Canada in 1992, and “yet the reporting of sexual assault has not skyrocketed with this higher standard.”

This law is a small step toward sexual violence prevention, and a giant leap in providing victims with protection they deserve.

Primary prevention of sexual violence – that is, preventing the violence before it is perpetrated – includes shifting unhealthy sexual and gender norms. It also puts the burden on everyone to prevent violence, not just a potential victim and/or a potential perpetrator. Primary prevention includes healthy sexuality.

Healthy sexuality is having the knowledge and power to express one’s sexuality in ways that enrich one’s life. It includes approaching sexual interactions and relationships from a consensual, respectful and informed perspective. Healthy sexuality is free from coercion and violence, which is precisely what this law seeks to promote.

Unfortunately in our culture, people aren’t automatically tuned into what it means to be a sexually healthy person. It’s something we all have to work on, given how bombarded we are with societal messages that tell us otherwise. We are taught that women and girls are sexual gatekeepers who should “pretend” to not want to have sex (when they actually do want it) — or to pretend to want it when they don’t — and men and boys should be aggressors who push to have sex no matter what their partner says.

Is it any wonder that sexual violence is such an issue?

And yet, healthy sexuality does exist and it is possible to be a sexually healthy person — and to have a sexually healthy culture. To have a law that promotes a standard of “yes means yes” instead of “no means no” is a great way to help establish healthy sexuality norms. People need to know that sex isn’t sexy without the presence (verbal or otherwise) of an enthusiastic yes, and if it takes a law to compel university officials to use that standard in investigations, then so be it.

As anyone who has ever enjoyed consensual sex will tell you, it’s pretty clear when the other person is into it. Not sure? Ask. It seems simple, and yet many fear that in practice it will be awkward. But as we all learn to be sexually healthier people, practice makes perfect.

So start practicing. It’s (healthy) sexy (sexuality).

This post is cross-posted from a post Cara wrote for Maine Family Planning’s blog, On the Front Lines.

Sex crimes are not scandals

Jennifer Lawrence Nude Photo Leak Isn’t A ‘Scandal.’ It’s A Sex Crime, via Forbes:

As most of you probably know, someone somewhere dumped a deluge of purported nude photographs of a number of female celebrities online yesterday. The victims include the likes of Kate Upton, Victoria Justice, Ariana Grande, Kirsten Dunst, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Krysten Ritter, Yvonne Strahovski, and Teresa Palmer. But the focal point for this story has been Hunger Games/American Hustle actress Jennifer Lawrence, since the Oscar winning actress is perhaps the most famous actress on the planet right now. Without going into sordid details (Justice and Grande have said the photos claimed to be of them are fake, other victims have confirmed theirs are real), I’d like to make two very specific points. Ms. Lawrence and the other victims have absolutely nothing to apologize for in terms of the contents of the photos or the nature in which they were leaked. The story itself should not be addressed as if it were a scandal, but rather what it is: A sex crime involving theft of personal property and the exploitation of the female body.

Outlets as mainstream as People and CNN are referring to the photo leak as a “scandal.” All due respect, it’s not a scandal. The actresses and musicians involved did nothing immoral or legally wrong by choosing to take nude pictures of themselves and put them on their personal cell phones. You may argue, without any intended malice, that it may be unwise in this day-and-age to put nude pictures of yourself on a cell phone which can be hacked and/or stolen. But without discounting that statement, the issue is that these women have the absolute right and privilege to put whatever they want on their cell phones with the expectation that said contents will remain private or exclusive to whomever is permitted to see them just like their male peers. The burden of moral guilt is on the people who stole said property and on those who chose to consume said stolen property for titillation and/or gratification.

It is not Ms. Ritter’s or Ms. Dunst’s responsibility to protect their own property from theft by not creating said property or only storing it in a specific place any more than it’s any woman’s responsibility to dress a certain way, travel in groups, wear special nail polish, or what-have-you to lessen the chance that someone will attempt to assault them. As is often the case when we discuss crimes of this nature against women, we have it backwards.  It is not on the (usually, but not always, female) victim to take “enough” measures to protect herself but rather on the (usually, but not always, male) victimizer to choose not to commit said crime. That notion was lost on the Disney Channel back in 2007. They treated Vanessa Hudgens like a sinful child after personal nudes were leaked and stated that “Vanessa has apologized for what was obviously a lapse in judgment. We hope she’s learned a valuable lesson.”

I sincerely hope that absolutely none of the victims involved in this current leak takes any form of “responsibility” or apologizes for anything. The victims involved have committed no crime and committed no sin by creating said photos in the first place or in “allowing” them to be stolen. What occurred yesterday is a theft and a crime, plain and simple. It is a personal violation of a prurient nature, with photos of an explicit nature that were intended for private or personal use now unleashed online for anyone to see, for free no less. It is, if I may digress for a moment, a loss in a business sense as well, if only because sadly an actress’s body and the titillation that it theoretically brings is one of her most important assets to Hollywood. If you don’t believe me, then take a look at (random examples) the trailers for Weinstein Company’s Lawless, Paramount’s Star Trek Into Darkness, and Walt Disney’s Guardians of the Galaxy, plus the posters for Warner Bros.’ (the kids-centric PG-rated) Journey 2: The Mysterious Island and notice how the actresses are highlighted.

The theft via cell phone hacking of countless nude photos, real or doctored, of various female celebrities is not a “scandal” to be mocked and teased about as if it were a public wardrobe malfunction or a gaffe. It should not be treated with quippy sub-headlines like “What Would Katniss do?” It is a crime that has turned the entire online community into potential peeping Toms with little-to-no accountability for the consumers of said stolen property/invasion of privacy. This is clearly a violation. It is a crime of theft with the intent to exploit its victims as punishment for the unpardonable sin of being female. A woman, be she in the public eye or a private citizen, has a right and privilege to take photos of herself for whatever reason she chooses.  A woman, be she a celebrity or a regular citizen, has the right to store them in the same manner as her male peers without the presumption that they will be stolen by an act of cyber hackery. And if said photos exist and said photos are stolen, the shame of that act should be, nay must be, wholly on the perpetrator of said crime.

It is not the responsibility of our female population to take “ X” number of steps to lessen the chance that a member of our male population will engage in untoward conduct towards them, be it assault or street harassment. As a society, we deal with violence, especially sexual violence, against women in much the wrongheaded manner that we have fought the war on drugs. We focus on the supply-side, with an emphasis on the things that women must do to “stay safe” instead of focusing on lessening mens’ “demand” to view women as purely a disposable commodity. In short, we emphasize how women can prevent being assaulted instead of telling men and boys not to assault women in the first place. Instead of condemning those who would steal the private photographs and publish them online for all to see, we condemn or belittle the women who chose to create said private photographs in the first place.  Ms. Lawrence, Ms. Winstead, and the like have absolutely nothing to apologize for. They have not been scandalized, but rather victimized.

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