Consent is a gender-neutral issue.
Last year, a group of male students developed a nail polish that females are slated to wear to detect drugs in their drinks. It was criticized as a non-empowering tool. The students cared enough about the safety of their female friends and loved ones to seek a solution. We have to remember that they were coming at the issue from their perspectives.
Rape is not okay. But it’s a difficult subject to talk about. The enmeshed issues are complicated and rooted in centuries-old beliefs. Resolutions are equally as complex and they will take time.
Friday, The Globe&Mail reported on a recently completed study that focused on looking into effective solutions for preventing rape. Almost 900 female psychology student volunteers participated. The experimental group of college and university students took a 12-hour educational course which offered some options about how to handle an unwanted sexual incident, specific to date rape issues. From what I read, this course focused on discussing boundaries, learning when and how to say no, and how to recognize coercion. And how to use physical force when necessary. The control group was given brochures.
Do I think this strategy of educating females is effective? The numbers in the study speak for themselves. The girls were followed for a year after the study and reported incidents of completed rape, attempted rape, coercion, attempted coercion, and nonconsensual sexual contact. The girls in the control group, the ones who were given brochures but not the 12-hour course, reported about double the incidents in most categories. For example, the females in the control group reported 42 incidents of completed rape in the year after the study, while the girls who took the course reported 23.
That was the completed rape. There were 55 incidents of attempted rape (40 from the control group, 15 from the experimental group), 110 incidents of coercion (62 control, 48 experimental), 170 incidents of attempted coercion (103 control, 67 experimental), and an incredible 305 incidents of nonconsensual sexual contact (184 control, 121 experimental).
When you add up the numbers, a total of 705 incidents happened over the course of a year in a group of 893 female college and university students. What do you think of those numbers?
Completed rape sounds pretty sterile and unoffensive. Very clinical and arms-length. Rape is a violent act. Rape is not sexual. Rape is perpetrated by someone who sees the person they are raping as less than. Rape is real and messy and traumatic. 23 incidents of rape in one year from a sample group of about 450 women is not okay. Something about this method of rape prevention is missing.
The most shocking numbers to me were the coercion incidents. It tells me that coercion is not something we can reduce by teaching women boundaries or assertiveness. The use of force or intimidation to obtain compliance can be covert and slipped into dynamics rooted in a culture where both men and women are taught, on many levels, that women are objects. Coercion plays on a person’s fears. Coercion is wrong. But it’s one of those things that is often not seen in the moment.
So, should we come up with a new 12-hour course to address coercion? Fuck ya! And let’s invite the boys to join.
Why don’t we have a course for boys and men? I don’t think that’s the right question. I think we should ask, why aren’t we including boys and men in the conversation? To effectively address the issue of coercion, we need to look at difficult questions about consent. Consent is a gender-neutral issue.
Let’s make courses about the intricacies about consent mandatory in all schools, starting no later than grade one, gradually working up to how this applies to sexual relationships when it’s age-appropriate.
If we do that, about five years later, we’ll be dealing with the root of the issue.