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What is consent? Cobbers talk about sexual assault

One in 5 women and 1 in 16 men will experience sexual assault while in college, according to It’s On Us, a campaign combating sexual assault in colleges nationwide.

So don’t go walking alone at night, right? Wrong.

“That’s not the kind of rape we’re dealing with on campus,” said Natalie Dulka, co-founder of feminism club.

Most sex offenders know the person they assault, according to Rape and Sexual Assault: A Renewed Call to Action by The White House Council on Women and Girls, published January 2014.

In simpler terms than the 20-page pdf document, Concordia’s policy says any kind of sexual touching without a clear, sober, unpressured “yes” from both people is sexual assault. It doesn’t matter if it is violent or not, over clothing or not — if someone’s not 100 percent sure the other person wants it, and they do it anyway — that’s sexual assault.

The clear, sober, unpressured “yes” is what consent is, according to Concordia’s policy, but a lot of people don’t understand that, Dulka said.

“I think a lot of times when sexual assault happens especially on college campuses it’s because there’s a lack of understanding on what consent is.”

According to Dean of Student Affairs Dr. Sue Oatey, head of Concordia’s It’s On Us organization, Concordia’s sexual misconduct policy is worded in a not so “person-friendly” way, in order to meet certain legal obligations.

It’s On Us is working to educate people about what sexual assault really means and clear up some confusions about consent.

Just because someone doesn’t say no, doesn’t mean that they’re saying yes, according to Dulka.

“Consent is active. It’s engaged,” Dulka said.

For gender scholar and former Concordia faculty member Megan Orcholski, consent even applies to cuddling and holding hands.

“Consent for me is about ‘Is what I’m doing with you ok?’,” Orcholski said.

A yes to one thing does not mean yes to everything, Dulka added.

“It’s not just like ‘she said yes to kissing and she took off her pants so she must have wanted it.’ That’s not how that works,” Dulka said.

First-year student Sean Fee said consent is not just a one-and-done type deal.

“You don’t just ask it once,” he said. “It’s a continuous thing, because just because someone feels a certain way one minute, if they feel a different way the next minute then the offer’s off the table.”

Dulka said people need to ask before engaging in sexual activity with someone; they can’t just assume the person will say no if it’s unwanted.

“There are a lot of people, especially introverts, who won’t say anything,” she said.

Fee said that this can create a terrible feeling afterward if someone did not ask the other person — who may be too timid to speak up — before engaging in sexual activity with them, because that is also form of sexual assault.

It’s important to communicate to make sure both people are on the same page, according to Dulka.

“If we don’t teach everybody that it is their right to say no … then we’re going to have problems,” Dulka said. “And it’s the problem we have now.”

For Fee, verbal communication is the way to go when it comes to clarity, because different gestures and nonverbal things can be easily misunderstood.

“If you’re mature enough to have sex, I think you should be mature enough to be able to talk about it with your partner or whoever,” he said.

Fee said people can get confused about what they think others want sexually. Orcholski agreed, saying people often don’t interpret situations the same way.

Orcholski recalls a time when a guy she was interacting with intimately did not understand that what he almost did would have been rape.

“I think I said “no” 10 to 15 times, which shouldn’t have to happen,” she said.

Though they did not have sex, Orcholski still recalls their conversation the next morning.

“He said ‘I think had I tried a little harder last night, we would’ve had sex,’” she said. “I wasn’t articulate enough yet to say, ‘So had you worked just a little harder, you could have raped me?’”

Pressured sex is rape, according to Concordia’s policy and Minnesota law.

Dulka said a contributing factor to this issue is the way that society questions women so much.

“A lot of men assume that women don’t know what they want,” she said.

For Orcholski, who has taught Gender and Communication at Concordia, the way that we are raised in our genders plays a role in this interpretation.

“If you say no 27 times and on the 28th you hesitate, will they put their dick in you?”

Oatey said this decision cannot be pressured.

“It’s a personal choice. … Whoever you’re with is not in charge of that decision. You are.”

According to Oatey, if someone cannot give consent, it is up to the other person to not engage in sexual activity with this person.

Dulka taught a sex education class to teen boys this summer; she recalls one boy’s reaction to this concept.

“One guy was like ‘Well are we just supposed to never have sex when we’re drunk then?’ and I was like, ‘Yeah. That’s probably your safest bet. If you’re concerned about consent or being falsely accused of rape, or something awful like that — don’t have sex with a drunk girl.”

Just clarifying these things can help, according to Dulka.

“It’s not that men are evil or want to have power over women or are awful animals and can’t control themselves,” Dulka said. “It’s that they’re not taught. It’s simply that we don’t teach the right values.”

Because we don’t talk about it, people can end up committing rape because they don’t understand they’re supposed to ask the other person if the sex is wanted. Fee said this is an issue.

“Even if those people don’t mean harm, they’re being harmful,” he said.

For Dulka, the time to start talking about consent needs to be much earlier.

“We should teach young children that their bodies are theirs. And they are in charge of their bodies,” Dulka said. “When you’re taught that your body is yours, you understand that everybody else’s bodies are theirs.”

Fee said if we start talking about sex at a young age as something that is not bad, then people will have a healthier understanding of it, which in turn will make it easier to talk about consent and sexual assault.

“[Sex] has been something that’s taboo and I think that’s how rape culture and different things like that become taboo as well, whereas if we talk about them as frequently as they occur, I think it would solve some issues,” Fee said.

For Orcholski, it starts with ourselves.

“We first have to figure out our boundaries and get stronger,” Orcholski said. “[Learn to say] ‘Respect my boundaries or leave.’”

Orcholski said having personal conversations is a good way to break down assumptions and misunderstandings that people have about consent and sexual assault.

Oatey said Concordia’s It’s On Us is working to initiate these conversations by having Resident Assistants, Orientation Leaders and athlete leaders talk to students about sexual assault and consent.

“The most powerful voices about this are student to student,” she said.

For Oatey, it’s about people’s respect for the ones they are with and for themselves as well.

It’s everyone’s responsibility to care about consent, Fee said in an email, and Dulka said this is especially important for Cobbers.

“Our statement is to become responsibly engaged in the world and that means responsibly engaged in sexual health issues. … If you’re a Cobber and you’re a male, you should care about consent. If you’re a Cobber and you’re a female, you should care about consent,” Dulka said.

Some people may see seeking consent as killing the moment, but for Fee, it’s sexier to ask.

“I find it admirable if I ask or if someone else asks,” he said. “And I also I find it sexier.”

Though it may seem awkward, Dulka said it’s always worth it to ask.

“The awkwardness of saying ‘Hey do you like this?’ or ‘Hey is this okay,’ or ‘Hey do you want to keep going’ … That awkwardness is far less awkward than facing each other in court.”

Oatey said the consequences of being classified as a sex offender are serious and long-term. If someone is convicted in court as a sex offender, that listing travels with them when they try to get a job and some jobs may not be available to them. If it is a campus hearing, the listing goes along when the student tries to transfer.

Dulka said just a few moments of making sure both people want what is happening, can have a lifetime’s impact.

“Stopping and taking those 30 seconds to ask checkup questions and to make sure everybody’s on the same page is going to benefit you in the long run,” she said.


  1. Ruth Ruth April 24, 2016

    Sex under pressure is not against the law. legal coercion must exist.

  2. Zach Lipp Zach Lipp April 14, 2016

    A swing and a miss regarding consent and alcohol. Alcohol and sex are parts of collegiate life – often both simultaneously. 40% of college students report having sex under the influence, let alone holding hands (per the threshold for consent suggested here). Discouraging students from wholesale engaging in sexual activities while under the influence is just like abstinence-only sex education: Technically correct, but totally disconnected from reality. I cannot agree more with the words of Jeb Rubenfeld, professor of criminal law at Yale Law School: Students who “are voluntarily under the influence (but not incapacitated)… remain responsible for their sexual choices…[S]exual assault on campus should mean what it means in the outside world and in courts of law.”


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