Tuesday, May 05, 2015

I ♥ Consent.



It was Christmas Eve 2014 and I was celebrating with some friends in a local bar. We spent most of the evening on the dance floor, screaming our hearts out to Jessie J (because who doesn't) and cooling off in the garden, when busting shapes resulted in hair stuck to your face. I'm sure I'm creating a beautiful image in your minds.

It was while heading to the bar for a round of drinks that a young man, or rather 'boy,' as I shall refer to him here, took it upon himself to engage in eye contact as I passed. I smiled in a friendly manner, which apparently is so rare today that many mistake it for flirtation, before grabbing our drinks from the bar. 

Eye contact however, soon turned to physical contact as when he saw me next he put his arm around me, sending a wink in my direction. I carefully removed his arm from my shoulder, telling him that I did not wish to be touched, while trying to remain polite. After all, I'm not one to knock a guy's confidence and it appeared to be seemingly innocent. 

The next time I passed, the physical contact became more persistent, and much more annoying. He grabbed my arm to pull me closer and with a firm grip, it took some effort to get him off. I wasn't feeling intimidated, this was my local and I had friends and family close by, but it was a nuisance.

Before long, he grabbed a part of my body that wasn't my arm, and suddenly I had gone from annoyed to angry. I was lucky enough to possess a sober head, and began sternly expressing my agitation while simultaneously pushing him off of me. He looked at me blankly and I couldn't work out whether he was unable to speak English, or just extremely drunk. Regardless, I didn't seem to be getting anywhere by way of communication. 

I headed over to the entrance and grabbed one of the bouncers who I knew fairly well, explaining that a guy was making me extremely uncomfortable and despite attempts to avoid him, it was seeming impossible. The bouncer was lovely, informing me that he would keep an eye on us and if the 'sexual pest', as he labelled him, touched me again, he would be removed from the club. The harassment continued, each time I thought about how much I needed to do weights as my physical weakness wasn't helping my situation. Sadly in a busy bar however, the bouncer saw nothing, and neither did my overprotective brother, who had joined us on our night out and (luckily) remained in the garden all evening. 

I ended up avoiding the bar, but a dire need for the bathroom meant I was pushed into leaving the safety net of my brother and his friends. I managed to head out undetected, and on my return I bumped into a guy from school. We stood by the bar having a lovely catch up before deciding to head outside, away from the music, where we could hear each other properly. Queue 'boy.' I felt myself squirm, as he appeared drunker and more active in his walk towards me. He grabbed my waist and I immediately stuck my arms out, telling him to stop. My words appeared to have no effect. 

Then I witnessed something magical, an eye-opening scene that was so uncanny I could have been in Narnia. My friend from school stepped forward, put his hand on this guy's (boy's) shoulder and shook his head. Within seconds, the extremely drunk, possibly non-english-speaking boy, straightened his back as if instantaneously sobering up, and said, 'sorry mate, I didn't realise she was with you.' I stood, shell shocked, like I had been slapped across the face by Muhammad Ali. He spoke? English? And he was sober enough to put together a sentence? Almost three hours of harassment, and I had received no verbal communication, but the second a man says no, it's time to back off. 

I would love to say that this was the first time this has happened to me, but it wasn't, and I'm certain it won't be the last. It's a shame that there are men (and I'm sure women) in the world who think sexual harassment, and in some instances sexual assault, is a form of flattery. I was told while on holiday, when somebody grabbed my behind, that I should take it as a compliment. When I woke up the next day with bruises, somehow I didn't feel complimented but instead violated. 

This is no doubt the reason that I tend to avoid clubs, but sadly it's not just clubs and bars where this sort of behaviour occurs. I remember, aged fifteen, explaining to a boy in the year below me at school, that he should really ask girls' permission before he puts his hand up their skirts. He replied with the word 'frigid' - implying that not wanting to be sexual assaulted somehow made me averse to sexual contact altogether. 

Communication by way of words appears to be unnecessary within a youth culture accustomed to headache inducing music, way too much alcohol and clubs as the number one location for leading to one night stands. What's important, is that there is nothing wrong with that, as long as when communication is formed, particularly in the shape of the word 'no,' you are not ignored. 

Consent is fundamental, and it is becoming seemingly more apparent that it needs to be taught. Everyone gives their daughters lectures on the importance of not giving the 'wrong impression,' not walking home in the dark and my personal favourite, wearing 'appropriate' clothing because all these things will prevent you from gaining attention. As much as they should be irrelevant, these instructions are common because sexual assault is real and apparently something that us women have control over. But who teaches their sons about the meaning and importance of consent? We become so invested in telling our daughters how to avoid unwanted sexual advances, that we forget to tell our sons not to make them in the first place. 

Somewhere along the line, wires have been crossed and the line between right and wrong appears to have faded (particularly when alcohol is blurring one's judgement). Campaigns, such as 'I ♥ Consent,' which are taking place at a number of UK universities, are working their magic and bringing these issues to people's attention, hopefully finding a solution to this overwhelming issue of miscommunication.





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