“Consent is hot, Assault is not.”
If you were hanging around the foyer last Wednesday, you might have heard those words being chanted by Monash’s very own Mental Health Ambassadors (MHA) as they led the march for sexual consent.
Or if you were drowning in the midst of Week 7 assignments and midterms (I don’t blame you!), fret not, here’s a breakdown of what happened:
The ‘Yes Means Yes’ campaign was the first of its kind, sprouted from MHA’s efforts to encourage discussion about sexual consent and to shed light on the alarming rate of sexual assault in Malaysia and in the global context.
There was a pledge board for you to support this cause through your words; purple ribbons to wear on top of your clothing; fundraising through badges, T-shirts and henna art; and a forum by 2 speakers on sexual consent and domestic violence.
You might be wondering—why ‘Yes means Yes’, and not the usual phrase—’No means No’ ?
You’re riding on the same wavelength as I am here, and this happens to be one of the most asked questions by students who came by the booth. Lubna Ali, President of MHA explained that her team’s main aim was to convey to people to wait for an implicit consent. To not do anything unless you get a ‘yes’ from your partner. Only the word ‘yes’ warrants consent. Not ‘maybe’, not ‘um ok’, and definitely not ‘I guess’. A lot of the times we assume that all those answers mean ‘yes’ which points back to the root of the problem—assuming.
According to Lubna, another (jarring) question that was asked was—what if you were married?
Terrifying but true, rape and sexual assault can still occur whether you are married or in a relationship. In fact, intimate partner violence is actually the leading cause of injury to women. Another scarier fact is that in Malaysia, marital rape is not recognised as a crime. What’s up with that? Lubna elaborated that whether you are married or in relationship, you and your partner still have the right to say yes or no to sexual relations. It does not make you any less of a good partner.
Many also thought that this campaign was gender biased despite MHA’s best efforts.
Not true, you guyssss. Men can be victims of sexual assault and rape too.
I could only be present at the forum for less than an hour, but one of the speakers spoke about how social stereotypes surrounding us can play a harmful role to this situation. Sexual assault doesn’t happen to women only. It happens to men too. The stereotype and categorization that men tend to be “players” is damaging because hey, if you haven’t guessed already, men can be vulnerable to assault too and are very much equally entitled to give consent!!1!!!11!!!
If you’re still reading this post (yay!), you might be thinking—hey, what does this have to do with me?
We tend to get caught in our own bubble of unintended ignorance. I’m not one to blame you entirely. But we reaaaaaally need to include a steady diet of social awareness in our lives, especially with the state of crappiness the world is in right now. Hence I shall employ something you c00l internet kids like to say into my vocabulary—we need to “stay woke”.
We need to be talking about how wrong it is for a rapist to go free because apparently the future of a potential Olympic swimmer is more important than the future of a rape victim. We need to talk about how very very wrong it is when politicians say it’s okay for rapists to marry their victims. (???¿?¿?¿¿¿?????)
What can we do to help further this cause? (most of the time we want to, but don’t know how, amirite?)
Talk about it. To your friends, your family, your neighbour (okay maybe not your neighbour unless you guys are real buddies). Sexual consent shouldn’t be a taboo topic. Anymore, at least. And I quote Lubna here—This is something we should have been taught when we were kids, and our culture does not do that. What our peers from MHA want you to know is that if people talk about it, more people would know ‘hei, consent is necessary’.
Photo courtesy: MHA
April is a month of many things—for most of us it is just another stressful month of catching up on work, but it is also an important month to acknowledge social matters, such as Sexual Assault Awareness and Autism Awareness to name a few.
But doing our part in acknowledging the importance of consent and even reaching out to someone in need isn’t and shouldn’t be limited to just this month of awareness.
We begin by acknowledging and making ourselves aware of this issue and educating ourselves on consent as both the asker and receiver.
After all, we have to start somewhere, right?
If you, or someone you know needs help, please contact the Mental Health Ambassadors through their Facebook page here or call the 24-hour Befrienders hotline @ 03-7956 8144 or 03- 7956 8145