By Munyale Kwabe
Short story; I was at the ATM one day and this young couple arrive. It is a little obvious that they are in a bad mood. They are arguing and shouting at each other, which caused a lot of stares. Then, the guy grabs the lady’s hand and she shouts at him and says ‘Don’t touch me’. He doesn’t comply and I find it odd. All this while, I wasn’t paying attention to their conversation but at this point I was interested. Aside the lady, I was the only other woman at the ATM. Anyway, she tries to let herself go but his grip is strong on her. One man then asks him to let her go and he refused. Another an asked him to do the same and he refuses. Then an older man from the back said ‘Young man, let that girl go’ and then he finally let her go. As she walked away from the ATM, they all began to laugh. I heard one man say ‘You know you can’t hold a lady like that, before you know it, she would say you raped her’ and all of them laugh. Except the older man. This, this statement right here is why I need us to talk about consent.
What is Consent?
Keeping it simple, Marriam Webster Dictionary as “To give assent or approval”. Simple, nothing more and nothing less. Overtime, the word has been affiliated with matters of sexual abuse and so many people think it only applies to that.
Now, when teaching people about consent, I have highlighted 4 major areas that most people are confused about and I’ll explain them in the following points.
- Understanding what consent is – One of the major problems is that people don’t understand what consent is. This is not because we don’t know the definition, but because we only think abut it as a sexual term. Consent is simple to understand if you can think of it in relation to another crime. Imagine you are at home about to have lunch. You hear a knock at the door and its your close friend. This friend tells you he is going to rob a bank and he would need your assistance as a get away driver. You think about it and say No. Then that friend puts a gun to your head and forces you to take part in his criminal activities. This act of force, to commit a crime you don’t want to be part of, is also a criminal offence. Meaning that you were forced and you didn’t consent to the act.
- Understanding that consent can be withdrawn – The only real power we have as humans is the ability to make decisions. The ability to say yes when we feel like and no when we dot feel like. Taking away that ability from anyone is considered a crime and that is why rape is a crime. Again you have this friend that wants to rob a bank. You say no, you want nothing to do with it. Then this friend goes on to say ‘But you helped me the last time, why are you saying no now’. You begin to feel guilty because you know he is right but that doesn’t mean you should be cajoled into doing what you don’t want to do? Consent can always be withdrawn. If I allow you take out money from my wallet today, it doesn’t mean my wallet belongs to you. It doesn’t mean that you can take out money whenever you like. That becomes stealing.
- Understanding that no one owes you anything – On the field, we have come in contact and seen stories of rapist. The common factor is the sense of entitlement that most of these perpetrators have. Understanding that no one owes you anything is very important. It helps you forgive and let go of disappointment. You shouldn’t force someone to do anything simply because you feel the person owes you a favor or owes you for something you did for them in the past. Some rapists imply that the victim wanted to be raped. In the case of Edmund vs The State of Ohio, who was arrested for statutory rape; he claimed that his victim wanted him to rape her. He said the she, Jen, who was only 14 at the time of the attack, always gave him a look that meant she was ready to start having sex. He also claimed that her parents always told him to keep an eye on their home when they were away on vacation. Therefore the family and Jen owe him sex.
- Understanding that stealing consent is a crime against humanity – When you force someone to give you his or her money without asking, it’s called stealing. Why? Because you didn’t ask and you used force. Taking away a person’s ability to make a choice is a crime against humanity. However, the problem is that once again we think about consent too deeply. We think about it only as it related to sexual violence, whereas we can think about it as it relates to any other crime.
Understanding consent isn’t difficult. Learning to apply the wisdom takes sensitivity and discipline. Always remember that every human has the right to say NO and NO is a complete statement.