My turn: April a good time to become informed about sexual assault

Posted: Monday, April 13, 2009

First a qualifier: this editorial is written from the perspective of one guy communicating to other guys, although everyone else is welcome to eavesdrop.

April is National Sexual Assault Awareness Month. Does that mean anything to you?

You may think to yourself: "I don't rape or do sexual abuse; this doesn't apply to me" and you're probably right. The overwhelming majority of us have not and would not ever knowingly sexually violate another person.

But it would be a mistake to think that the only form of rape is a violent, forcible sexual assault committed by a stranger. Most rapes in fact do not meet that extreme description at all. Some other rapes are accompanied by coercion or intimidation instead of outright violence.

Most rapes are in the "date-rape" category, where both people know one another, and there is no force or threats used. However, this is the key thing: Explicit consent is absent for one reason or another. Did I mention that consent also is required in order for the sex to be legal?

But I would hope that you have higher goals than just clearing the bar when it's set on the lowest possible rung. If all a guy is concerned about is not being obviously violent, he may not pay attention to the most important thing of all: Having his partner's willing and informed consent for sexual activity. Just avoiding the worst-case scenario is not the same as doing what is best, and what is best is respecting and honoring your partner's boundaries and self determination at all times. Consent is necessary for any respectful sexual encounter. It is a matter of your prospective sexual partner not just not say 'no,' but of saying 'yes' to sex with you.

So how well do you think you understand consent? You may be familiar with the term "informed consent" but it all might be more involved than you at first thought.

Here are some more things about it that you should know if you don't already: Your potential sexual partner must be capable of giving consent, which means of legal age, sober, not under the influence of incapacitating drugs and conscious. For your partner to be fully informed, that means it is up to you to share information that could influence his or her decision. Are you hiding something because you think if you shared it, the other person might not want to have sex with you? If so, the other person is not informed, and cannot provide informed consent.

Consent must not be coerced, meaning your potential partner must freely choose to have sex with you. 'Yes' to sexual activity is meaningful only if 'no' is always an option. Also, and this is an important point, permission granted for certain behaviors does not mean consent for everything that might follow. Your partner is free to decide if and when to say 'no' or 'stop' at every point along the way.

So far, so good? Okay, let's say you want to take it upon yourself to be respectful and ensure that your partner's safety and dignity remains intact within mutually satisfying sexual relationships. Here are the main tenets of the consexual creed:

1) My partner's safety and autonomy is more important than my sexual access and satisfaction.

2) I will always be sure to obtain informed consent.

3) I will not seek sex from those unable to or incapable of granting consent.

4) I believe that sexual access is a privilege and not a right.

5) I will always respect the other person's right to say no, before or during sex.

6) I will take full responsibility for my own sexuality.

7) I will promote sexual safety and respect by confronting abusive behaviors and attitudes in others.

If you act in ways that conform to the above items, then you will not only not have to worry about committing a rape or other form of sexual assault, but you will show through your actions that you care for and respect the other person that you have sex with. In so doing, you will not only demonstrate your respect for the other, but for yourself too.

• Paul McCarthy has worked with violence issues for nearly 13 years in Juneau. For more information, visit the Web at

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