Sexual violence is an epidemic on college campuses across the nation. This devastating crime hinges on the concept of consent: sexual assault is “intentional sexual contact without consent of the other person”.
Student groups nationwide have been taking this information and working to raise awareness and get people talking about consent.
Jess Ensenberger, the standing senior advisor and past president of Raising Awareness of Interactions in Sexual Encounters (RAISE), got involved with the group after advice from a freshman RA; she said the experience is informative and eye-opening and works as a peer educator to discuss sexual assault and consent; “As a senior now, I’ve seen a huge improvement since getting involved my freshman year […] Just in those four years, I can tell that things are changing a little bit,” said Ensenberger, citing increased coverage of sexual violence in the school newspaper as an example of this change.
Groups and Policy
Campus groups, like all organizing groups and movements, are only as effective as their leadership. Relying on these groups, then, can result in a big push of success under a great leader, followed by a backslide, or even dissolution of the group, when that leader leaves.
“Student populations are transient, and the membership of campus organizing groups changes from year to year,” said McKendry.
SAFER focuses on policy reform at universities. “Sexual assault policy reform is critical in large part because it's sustainable,” McKendry explained. “A school's policy sticks around, and a good policy can be used by student activists to hold their schools accountable for preventing campus sexual assault for years to come.”
No Means No
In the past, the phrase “No means no” has been used as a slogan of the sexual violence movement–but it doesn't give full coverage of the issue of consent.
“’No means no’ is important,” said McKendry. “But I like ‘Yes means yes’ better. SAFER advocates for enthusiastic consent.”
“A lack of a no, doesn’t mean yes,” said Ensenberger. “It doesn’t have to be weird or awkward [to get consent],” she added with suggestions as simple as saying, “Is this ok?”
The Clothesline Project, which “honors women survivors as well as victims of intimate violence,” according to their website, further clarified the phrase “no means no.” On a webpage with information about date rapes, they added “silence means no” and “‘maybe later’ means no,” among other phrases.
Where do we go from here?
To all the college students who want to be involved: Seek out groups on your campus that are already working in the field and get involved. Even if you don’t want to be an educator or an activist, you can help further the movement.
“Be a good educator and be a good resource to your friends,” said Ensenberger. She added that it’s important to call people out on their use of language, including words like “slut”.
To active members of the movement: There is a pressing need to make the movement more accessible to all communities and, as with all social movements, check internal privilege and bias. Ensenberger discussed the possibility of implementing programming specific to LGBT communities, adding that it is still in its infancy.
But above all: raising awareness is always an ongoing process – the more people reached, the greater the effect. Campuses receive new students every year and education is especially important within the freshman class.