January 12, 2014

SAAM blog series: Start Talking about ____

For Sexual Assault Awareness Month (SAAM), We’ll be highlighting specific myths about sexual assault each week, particularly about the relation university campuses as a way to start and continue the conversation about Sexual Assault. January is SAAM here at UBC, and alongside this blog series, there will also be variety of events to take part in or refer others to.

This month we’re talking about the facts of sexual assault, the big picture of sexual assault, speaking up, and consent through online resources and campus events using myths, delving in from our general myth and facts page. Here, we will be looking at the particular myth that people act or behave in certain ways or enter into certain situations where they then owe or have already consented to sexual activity and how this myth warps consent, can be spoken up against, twists the facts of sexual assault, and ties into the big picture of assault and rape culture.

Let’s Start Talking about the myth that in certain situations (on dates, in relationships for instance) or with certain “signals” (particular clothes, drinking, being in particular locations) people owe another person ‘sex’ or sexual interaction. This perception of obligation is also amplified by the addition of social power weighing the relationship in particular dynamics such as in interactions impacted by whiteness, gender, colonial power, ability, age differences where at a systemic level a person with a particular social location is typically already assumed inferior to a person with a differing social location.

The notion that one person owes another sex is often a silent script that affects our perceptions of what is motivating other’s lives and shapes our own actions/assumptions. This as normal plays out in films such as coming of age stories and romantic comedies all the time. This myth and others supersede deep conversation or checking in with the desires and needs of all parties whether as bystanders or in interpersonal interaction. They become assumptions that guide social perceptions of sexual assault and consent more generally. The presence of these assumptions makes supporting survivors, community accountability, and learning deeper practices of consent difficult. Instead, silence is frequently a presumed default, which then allows this sexual myth to shape and guide our thoughts and beliefs. These myths affect us all even when we don’t act on them or use them to perpetuate assault ourselves. This myth also shields those who use it as a defense or even intentionally as a tool to sexually assault others. This myth operationalizes rape culture.

Thomas @ Yes Means Yes discusses this further and Marcotte @ Raw Story in talking about how these myths create social licenses for people who commit assault to operate, where the social climate will side against the survivor if they do choose to speak up in their communities and possibly to understand themselves what has happened. Understanding how these myths negatively impact our personal and community practices of consent, boundary setting, and negotiations is vital as is understanding how they obfuscate our ability take care of each other and hold those who commit assault or violate boundaries accountable, whatever that means for ourselves and communities. These myths impair our ability to form relationships and communities where we better learn how to communicate and practice consent, instead of relying on silent, frequently toxic, relationships.

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