Towards Creating a Culture of Consent

To eliminate rape culture, we have to build a future where there is a culture of consent. Building a culture of consent is difficult when many still struggle with understanding what consent is, and how we should recognise when consent is given or withdrawn.

 

Consent is an agreement between two or more individuals engaging in an activity, sexual or otherwise, willingly and enthusiastically. Consent is characterised by the fact that it is clear, enthusiastic, communicative, ongoing and the responsibility of the initiator. Consent can also be renegotiated or withheld at any time. When we practice asking for consent, it means that we mindfully respect peoples’ autonomy and choices. When we practice asking for consent, we prioritise the comfort, safety and needs of those we engage with. When we practice asking for consent, we make a commitment to dismantling rape culture, and that everyone’s well-being, including ourselves, matters.

 

If rape culture helps us understand the pernicious ways in which sexual violence is interwoven into our social and cultural fabric, consent culture is the proactive and affirmative counter to it – it is the culture that is alternative to rape culture.

 

Consent culture is a culture that works to build a society where asking for consent and respecting the responses to it is the standard. It affirms peoples’ personal boundaries, i.e., a person’s right to choose what is acceptable and comfortable to them, and that it must be respected unreservedly. Consent is voluntary, and is not assumed or implied in the absence of “no”.

 

Consent has the ability to create remarkably caring and meaningful relationships. When practiced well, it even has the potential to increase joy and pleasure. But this is not exclusive to just sexual interactions – consent culture emphasises that consent be applied to all aspects of life, and treating it as such is essential to fight against rape and sexual assault. Asking for consent in all situations, whether it be sexual, platonic, romantic or official, and respecting the responses becomes the norm. When consent is breached, there must be appropriate consequences, as sexual violence must not be tolerated or normalised, and the voices of victims/survivors must be centred.

 

To move from a culture that has normalised sexualised violence, that is rape culture, to a culture of consent is not a task that can be established overnight. It requires individual and structural effort, where spaces are created that such a culture can be born and thrive in. It is a space where rape culture is deconstructed, dismantled and questioned.

 

Some ways we can challenge rape culture is by being proactive in our efforts to question those who normalise it – interrupting conversations that try to defang the harm of sexualised jokes or commentary lets others know that this behaviour is unacceptable and that they, too, should question themselves if they’re participating in rape culture. We can also check in on someone who seems uncomfortable and see if they are alright, even if we do not know them.

 

Creating and moving towards consent of culture requires us to be uncomfortable with the normalisation of sexual violence, to refuse to accept it as a regular standard for society, regardless of the consequences. It is the only way we can continue with a culture that is free from sexual violence.

 

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