March 9, 2016

GUEST ROOM | Consent Isn’t Optional

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As Cornell students, we hear the word “consent” thrown around quite a bit. Most of us understand that sexual assault and the ambiguity of what constitutes “consent” is an issue, if not an epidemic, on our campus, yet disturbing statistics and headlines continue to loom over our heads. A study by the Association of American Universities in 2015 reported that 23 percent of female college students experienced unwanted sexual contact during their undergraduate years. This week, Cornell made national headlines for the second time this semester as a freshman basketball player was arrested on sexual assault charges. So yes, we, as students, can agree that sexual assault is a problem. We can even agree that it’s something we need to change. However, in order for these statistics to drop, in order for Cornell to once again be known nationally for its outstanding scholarship rather than sexual misconduct, a massive change needs to come from within.

As the Vice President of Public Relations for Cornell Consent Ed, I serve as a peer facilitator, fostering frank discussions about sex, consent and the ambiguous consequences of alcohol. Legally, a person under the influence of alcohol in any capacity is unable to give consent, thus making any drunken sexual encounter illegal. However, as students, we understand that this definition is incredibly difficult to work with. College students, even those under the age of 21, often drink. They may get drunk, and they may have sex. They may even regret the sex they had the night before. However, this does not necessarily indicate any sort of sexual assault or misconduct — it may be nothing more than two people making an entirely consensual choice to sleep together under circumstances they normally wouldn’t. However, situations such as this can easily take a turn for the worse when regret turns to panic. If someone has drank too much, can barely support themselves let alone make informed decisions about their endgame for a night and doesn’t have any idea who they are speaking to, it is likely the best idea — out of respect for both yourselves and them — to put them to bed rather than escalate any sort of sexual activity. Chances are, if something is meant to happen between the two of you, it will on a different night. If not, you’ve aided someone in their time of need.

As a female undergraduate at Cornell, I have found that too few people respect their sexual partners. Some men, particularly in groups, have a tendency to commoditize women, keeping checklists of all the women they have slept with from a particular sorority or “passing someone around” for their own amusement and then degrading them. Even if a woman practices safe, consensual sex, she is liable to be judged by both her female and male peers for the number of partners she has had in a way that most young men have never experienced. Therefore, those who identify as women are encouraged to keep their sexual experiences to themselves, even if something disturbing or unsettling occurred, for fear of being labelled “sluts.” I personally applaud all those who have spoken up, forced perpetrators to be held accountable for their actions and further pushed the importance of consent in public discourse.

So, as Cornellians of all genders, what can we do about this problem, this epidemic? In my opinion, the solution has to come with a fundamental shift in perspective on our part as students. We must change the way that we see each other, viewing our fellow students as “conquests” rather than living, breathing people with hopes, dreams, and fears. We have to communicate clearly with each other. Before going out for the night, consult with friends to ensure that a group understands, sober, what each person wants going into a night, thus empowering them to be active bystanders. Furthermore, we must communicate, honestly and openly, drunk and sober, with sexual partners. Whether you’ve been in a relationship for years or are getting to know each other for the first time, you will never regret asking someone for consent. It may seem awkward at first, but this is the best way to ensure that both partners are getting what they want out of the experience rather than what they think they should do based on societal pressures or the actions of their peers. Only then will we be able to make a measurable impact on frightening statistics, to remove the taboos surrounding the discussion of sexual assault and ensure that everybody at Cornell is able to have fulfilling, consensual sex.

Andrea Osborne is a junior in the College of Arts and Sciences. Comments may be sent to Guest Room appears periodically this semester.

  • HOW to do this consent thing.” YES to SEX, a Sexual Consent App Available Worldwide, Offers The 1st Safe Step for Campuses to be PREVENTATIVE

    When it comes to consensual safe sex between two individuals, there are topics that absolutely need to be taught and addressed upfront in pre-sex conversations. “It is time to redirect our sexual culture away from the epidemics of violence, unplanned pregnancies, and rampantly spreading sexually transmitted diseases and infections. YES to SEX is a free to use smartphone app that promotes pre-sex communication and safe consensual sex, doubling as a teaching tool. In as little as 25 seconds, whether using one phone or two, the app creates a private opportunity for partners to make their important pre-sex decisions together,” says President and Inventor Wendy Mandell-Geller of Safe Sex Consent Inc. Affirmative Consent, Yes Means Yes and new regulations tell people WHO, WHAT, WHEN and WHY they must get affirmative consent. Only the YES to SEX app delivers the HOW to get initial verbal consent, agree on protection and share safe words for later, in a quick and easy app format.

    This millennium prevention and intervention app impacts campus environments by being able to quickly educate and help students have a tool in their hand to use regarding sexual consent. There is nothing better to prepare students to consent (or how to say NO easily) at the time the situation arises, then to teach them HOW to consent on the same app they will eventually use to Sexually Consent for real – in the heat of the moment, when they are alone with a partner, when it counts! Solutions are obviously being sought out internationally, as over 11,000 College administrators, Title IX leaders, professors, sexual consent and assault groups all viewed this app through-out the world last month, and that was without any media coverage as the app was in testing.

    YES to SEX is free to use, with no sign-up – so there is no excuse for students not to use it – since their phones are always in their hands. It brings safe consensual pre-sex conversations into in the heat of the moment, when they are alone with a partner, when it counts! This app protects each partner with the power of choices and a voice in the decision.

    “Complete privacy of our users is a top priority.” President Mandell-Geller states. “The app is free to use, and requires no sign-up, names, faces, videos, fingerprints, emails, phone numbers, social media information or signatures. Once you close the app, nothing remains saved on any phone, and no one can access any records to peek or to make changes. The date, time, place, and voice recordings are stored on YES to SEX’s secure cloud servers, using the same data encryption as the Department of Defense. Why voice captures without videos, pictures or personal information? Voices alone cannot be searched on the internet, and certainly not encrypted voices.”

    This app invention goes beyond what is currently available anywhere regarding safe sexual consent. It enables and empowers users to discuss important details with their partners and communicate their decisions to say, ‘yes’ or ‘no’ in a very clear and comfortable way. YES to SEX is the mobile sexual consent app solution that high-schools, universities, colleges, sororities, fraternities, athletic associations, the military, and dating services are seeking. A way to create Safe Sex Consent campuses and communities everywhere, the YES to SEX app protects each partner with the power of choices and a voice in the decision.

  • Alumna

    “Legally, a person under the influence of alcohol in any capacity is unable to give consent, thus making any drunken sexual encounter illegal…. College students … may get drunk, and they may have sex. They may even regret the sex they had the night before. However, this does not necessarily indicate any sort of sexual assault or misconduct.”
    I agree with you, but as someone with knowledge of the system, I must advise you that Cornell *would* see it as sexual assault or misconduct. If you have sex with someone who was drunk (and therefore unable to give consent), and they later regret it and decide to report you — even though it seemed consensual at the time — Cornell’s JA will prosecute you and either suspend or expel you.
    And a notation of suspension or expulsion will remain on your transcript forever, thus making it extremely difficult to get into grad school or even to get a good job.

  • Pingback: New York: GUEST ROOM | Consent Isn’t Optional @cornellsun – Affirmative Consent / Yes Means Yes()

  • George

    If both of the people involved are too drunk for consent, which one is guilty of sexual assault? Both of them?

    • Alumna

      No. In all the cases I’ve seen, only the guy is guilty of sexual assault, and is punished for it, even if both of the people were too drunk for consent — and, more disturbingly, even if it seemed consensual at the time.

      As a matter of fact, I believe there’s never been a case of a woman being guilty of sexual assault at Cornell, despite there being many cases where both people were too drunk to consent.

      • George

        thanks for responding, even though I meant my comment as a rhetorical question. You are obviously correct. I think someone should ask “war on women” Hillary Clinton whether men accused of rape should enjoy a presumption of innocence?

  • Man with the Axe

    I’m a bit troubled by the unthinking acceptance of the notion that someone who is become voluntarily intoxicated is no longer responsible for her behavior in any way.

    This would not be true if instead of having sex she got into her car and drunkenly killed someone by, say, driving into a crowd of students at a campus street corner. She would be held legally and morally responsible for her actions because she her intoxication was voluntary and the consequences are foreseeable.

    Is having sex any different? No one can say with a straight face that it is not foreseeable that if a woman has too much to drink she might end up having sex she later regrets. This fact is so well-known that men are held liable for knowing it.

    • Alumna

      Yes, if the woman was drunk, the man is held liable — even if he was drunk too (and it seemed consensual at the time).
      But if she’s not responsible for her behavior, why is he responsible for his? Or put another way, if he is responsible, why is she not?