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Consent: Not saying ‘no’ doesn’t always mean ‘yes’

Last week I found out that some popular British YouTubers had been accused of sexual assault. I’m not here to speculate about what happened but the whole news story just angered me because it reminded me yet again how common sexual assault is.It’s one of those tragic occurrences in life that will always confuse and madden us because we just do not understand why it has to happen. Leaving aside the mentally deranged, why are there so many men and – yes – women too, who engage in such horrifying acts of violation?

When people hear the term “sexual abuse” they usually associate it with a horrible image of a man down a dark alleyway holding a knife to a girl’s throat and forcing her knickers off. This is the kind of image we’re trained from a young age to associate with the term. For good reasons of course, to protect us, to warn us; but what so many people still don’t fully understand is that sexual abuse can take so many forms.

Anyone can be sexually abused: young, old, male, female, child, adult. Sexual doesn’t have to mean sex: it can be touching, it can be kissing. Coercion isn’t just grabbing a victim and forcing them to submit to your will, it can be as simple as a few words to try and convince someone to doing something sexual that you want them to do.

If you are putting pressure on someone to do something they do not want to do it is sexual abuse. If you have been pressured into doing something you didn’t want to do, even if it was “only verbal pressure” that does not make it okay. It is abuse.

I have had conversations with men and women alike who shrugged off an act of sexual abuse of which they were either the perpertrayor or the victim, without even realizing that they had just described abuse.

I have had friends attempt to convince me that I was “overreacting” when I had felt pressured into doing something I did not want to do. On more than one occasion, I might add.

So many people do not understand that not saying “no” is not the same as saying “yes”.

And don’t start with the “well they should have given a very clear nobullshit. If it were that simple we would have far fewer cases of sexual abuse in this world. There are many reasons why someone in a certain situation would have trouble expressing themselves, ranging from a young person’s misguided sense of reputation to an overwhelming fear of saying “no”, which is actually common among survivors of sexual assault.

Misreading some signals doesn’t make you a bad person, or guilty of sexual abuse. But if you’re too concerned with getting your way that you are not paying attention to your partner or if you’re not sure if you have consent and you don’t bother to double check, ask maybe (?), then that makes you guilty as hell. And don’t even think about trying to shift the blame because you are just digging a deeper hole for yourself. Do you really think that because your partner was unable to express themselves clearly enough to you, that makes their discomfort invalid?

There are too many people with a warped idea of what the words “consent” and “abuse” actually mean. And I bet if everyone had a serious think about everyone they’ve been or almost been with, a lot of them would begin to question some of their preconceptions.


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