Consent: What Is It?

BY. OFONIME IDIONG

Note: This article discusses acts of sexual harassment and sexual violence

During the livestream of Aretha Franklin’s funeral service on Aug. 31, viewers around the world were shocked by Bishop Charles H. Ellis III’s invasive behavior when he groped Ariana Grande’s breast. Social media went wild, and people were disgusted that he would be bold enough to do such an act. In a comment to The Associated Press, Ellis said,  “It would never be my intention to touch any woman’s breast.” He apologized for being, “too friendly or familiar.”

Ellis’s actions sparked the recurring issue of consent, which continued the conversation into the recent events of the Kavanaugh accusations and Bill Cosby’s conviction. Women around the world added their voices to the conversation, with stories of how they too, have been inappropriately touched without permission.

There is lots of evidence supporting how wide spread sexual assault is in the United States. An online survey launched by Stop Street Harassment, found that more than 81 percent of women and 43 percent of men have been sexually harassed in their lifetime. A different study by RAINN calculated that an American is sexually assaulted every 98 seconds. Additionally, The National Sexual Violence Resource Center, reported that one in five women and one in seventy one men will be raped during their lifetime.

Pastor Ellis did not rape Ariana Grande that day in church, but the conversation of consent also applies to sexual harassment and even non-sexual acts. How do we deal with a world in which a large number of me do not understand or claim they do not understand boundaries of coming in contact with women? What are remedies to combat such startling facts?

When the #MeToo movement, addressing the accusations against Harvey Weinstein and other high-profile male celebrities went viral, it prompted the rebirth of conversations surrounding the idea of consent. We know that consent should mean actively agreeing to physical, verbal or sexual contact, but how do we implement this idea in today's society? How do we make sure the “over-friendly touching” that happened to Ariana on live television does not continue to be a daily issue for countless other women and men.

College campuses around the country, including American University, are taking steps towards decreasing sexual harassment and sexual violence. Many have implemented programs that teach consent to incoming students, the most malleable demographic. At American, it is mandatory for all freshman to undergo StepUp bystander intervention training. The Health Promotion and Advocacy Center (HPAC) also hosts several sexual violence prevention programs throughout the year.

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Consent is asking for permission. consent is not invading privacy. Sexual consent and consent in general, is a conversation that we need to have as a society. We often give a pass to inappropriate behavior because we do not know how to start these conversations. We also allow consent to only be a topic of discussion when a specific situation goes viral and angers people, but after a while the news story becomes less important and the conversation evaporates.

In order to reduce and hopefully eliminate sexual harassment, we need to keep the conversation alive. We need to stop being so tolerant of sexual misconduct and create safe, comfortable ways for victims to come forward. As the #metoo movement has shown, those who have the power to manipulate the system do, and are rarely reprimanded for their actions.

Consent is important because everyone is entitled to feel safe in whatever space they choose to exist in. Women as well as men are subjected to moments in their lives in which their privacy is breached. We need to become a society in which we are conscious of our actions and how they impact the people around us. We have allowed predatory behavior for far too long. It does not take much to ask someone if they are ok with the actions you choose to take. Yes and No are simple concepts, and need to be a much more consistent in our lives so that we can keep everyone safe.