My reactions to the three reported cases of sexual assault on campus two weekends ago are conflicting. On the one, more obvious hand, anger and empathy congeal within me to form a general, tepid disgust at the prevalence of crimes such as these. On the other hand, I feel a morbid sense of relief that sexual assault survivors are growing less likely to let these cases go unreported. Of course, I’m not naive enough to pretend that rape is a rarity in our party culture, whether at a frat house or not.
It’s about time that sexual assault lost its shock value and became a dominant discourse on this campus. The stigma surrounding victims must be abolished in favor of a more comprehensive support system that utilizes our new survivor resource specialist and provides a full criminal investigation for anyone who requests it. We desperately need a paradigm shift from our current culture of fear and sexual oppression to one of safe and effective communication.
In addition to providing more resources for survivor justice and well-being, the new sexual assault law SB 967 will finally enforce an affirmative sexual consent policy for all universities in California. Beyond just “yes means yes,” the new rules for consent stipulate that voluntary, conscious affirmation must be gained every step of the way — this is not signified by silence or ambiguous moaning that might be construed as pleasure. Consent can be revoked at any moment, and any prior sexual activity in no way guarantees a follow-up. Something to write home about: If you fuck someone who is too intoxicated to give conscious consent, it’s rape.
While our university has far surpassed others with its sexual violence policy, rape culture still undeniably exists. You’ve likely heard this same lecture from my Sex on Tuesday predecessors or various other sources, so why can’t we seem to shake these hideous human rights violations for good?
While some of us could recite verbatim the new consent policy with a sock shoved in our mouths, the larger part of our student body still seems unversed in it’s formal definitions. Despite recent events, I don’t want to criminalize frat culture as the main perpetrator of sexual assault, nor do I want to attach this stigma to the entire Greek system: The reality of sexual assault extends to all corners of our campus community. Despite the fact that most sexual crimes are committed against women, I also want to avoid conceptualizing our consent laws on such explicitly gendered terms. Regardless of your gender identity, your sexual orientation or your sexual fetishes — even regardless of your lofty spot on the attractiveness scale — absolutely no one is exempt from asking first.
It’s crucial to understand that no abstract governmental campaign is going to carry forward this discourse on sexual safety without a serious effort on all our parts. Education need not necessarily come from above; communicating to your friends, housemates or sexual partners what it means to give and get consent could in fact be more powerful than any pamphlet you find at the Tang Center.
The fight against sexual violence needs to happen on both a systematic and individual level. Even if you’ve never been forced to carry out a sexual act you weren’t comfortable with, chances are you know what it feels like to utter “yes” against your will in a situation of peer pressure or emotional manipulation. Magnify that feeling exponentially, and maybe you’ll understand how it feels to be sexually violated. If you can manage that, stretch your imagination even further to comprehend the intersectional nature of injustice and sexual oppression that accompanies an act of sexual violence for certain variously oppressed individuals.
Ethical reasoning aside, I believe asking for consent should be prompted by far more than a fear of legislative punishment or a criminal proceeding being brought on your ass. Yes, it’s illegal to have sexual intercourse with someone who does not give you an unambiguous, resounding, “YES!” — but it’s way better to focus on the emotional, interpersonal rewards of effective communication than solely on its legal repercussions. Consent is fucking hot. It’s about time everybody realized that and jumped on the bandwagon — or else.
When it comes down to it, no one is going to police you behind closed doors, nor is anyone standing around handing out gold stars for lawful behavior. The fact of the matter is that safe and consistent consent practices ensure that any sexual encounter — whether with your boo or a total rando, whether highly intimate or of the “no kissing” variety — will be way better, period. No one wants to bone someone that doesn’t want them back: If we did, we’d all just be fucking watermelons and blow-up dolls for the rest of our lives.
Call me crazy, but I was raised to think sex should be a fun and positive experience for everyone involved. Sex might be mainly about physical pleasure, but it’s also about getting pleasure from giving it to someone else. It’s about not assuming that everyone is into what you’re into or that just because you’re both wasted that you don’t have to ask first. So, please, don’t email me complaining that consent makes you look unsexy or insecure. Actually, it just makes you look like the opposite of an asshole.
A previous version of this column stated that the university changed its sexual violence policy largely due to complaints brought forward by UC Berkeley students about the mishandling of sexual assault cases. In fact, the change came in response to the federal Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act.
A previous version of this column also stated that three cases of sexual assault on campus were reported this weekend. In fact, they were reported two weekends ago.