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#WhatConsentMeansToMe hashtag sparks vital conversation on Twitter

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Anna Brech
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Sex without consent is rape in the eyes of the law, but awareness of this fact is still clouded in misunderstanding and myth.

As allegations of sexual assault against disgraced Hollywood director Harvey Weinstein continue to gather pace this week, the conversation around harassment and abuse has been catapulted into the spotlight.

The #MeToo campaign – where men and women share their own stories of assault to highlight just how prevalent it is – has triggered much-needed dialogue around what it means to be violated.

Now, the hashtag #WhatConsentMeansToMe is trending also, throwing the issue of consent into the public sphere:

According to section 74 of the Sexual Offences Act 2003, someone consents when she or he “agrees by choice…and has the freedom and capacity to make that choice”.



“Because freedom and capacity are central to the definition of consent, someone saying ‘yes’ to sex doesn’t automatically mean they’ve consented,” reads guidance at  Rape Crisis, one of Britain’s largest organisations tackling forms of sexual violence.

“If someone is in an abusive or exploitative relationship, for example, they might say ‘yes’ out of fear for their lives, or for the lives or well-being of family or friends, which is far from ‘freely’. 

“Being coerced, bullied, scared, shocked or threatened takes away our freedom and capacity to make choices in lots of different situations.”

In addition, the organisation, says, there are clear scenarios where people don’t have the capacity to consent, for example: if someone is asleep or unconscious.

Despite the clear definition, there remains confusion around what consent means; recent research showed that 33% of men believe that “sexual intercourse where one of the partners is pressured to give their consent” doesn’t constitute assault.

Police, education and sexual health organisations are working to debunk myths around the issue, creating awareness campaigns that unpick questions around consent targeted at teenagers and young adults.

consent

There remains widespread confusion around what consent means

In 2015, Thames Valley Police came up with a clever analogy video that compared sexual consent to wanting a cup of tea.

Illustrated with stick figures, the narrator explains that consent really is an issue as simple as asking for a cuppa.

“People might say ‘Yes please, that’s kind of you’, and then when the tea arrives they actually don’t want the tea at all. Sure, that’s kind of annoying as you’ve gone to all of the effort of making the tea, but they remain under no obligation to drink the tea.

“They did want tea. Now they don’t.

“Some people change their mind in the time it takes to boil the kettle, brew the tea and add the milk. And it’s OK for people to change their mind. And you are still not entitled to watch them drink it.”

Regional co-director of Rape Crisis, Christina Diamandopoulos, told the BBC at the time that “for too long there have been myths around the subject of consent, particularly that it is a 'grey' area”.

“In reality it has never been a 'grey' area, and this campaign, which we are proud to be part of, makes that clear,” she said.

If you need to speak to someone about consent, rape or assault in confidentiality, contact Rape Crisis England

Photos: iStock / Thames Valley Police

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Anna Brech

Anna Brech is a freelance journalist and former editor for stylist.co.uk. Her six-year stint on the site saw her develop a vociferous appetite for live Analytics, feminist opinion and good-quality gin in roughly equal measure. She enjoys writing across all areas of women’s lifestyle content but has a soft spot for books and escapist travel content.

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