VOICES When ‘No’ Leads to Speculation

An infographic with a light green background and white text. The white text contains the phrase, “Younger people are at the highest risk of sexual violence. 54 percent of sexual assault victims are between the ages of 18 and 34.” This information was provided by the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network. (Ashley Hern)

An exploration of consent through the eyes of a Saddleback sociology instructor and ‘Steven Universe’.

Katie Way’s article on babe.net, “I went on a date with Aziz Ansari. It turned into the worst night of my life,” details how miscommunication can cause sexual violence during a first date. The Brooklyn-based photographer who was given the pseudonym Grace explains in the article that she gave verbal and nonverbal cues that indicated her lack of consent which were ignored by Ansari.

“A positive side of the Babe article is that people are actually starting to have conversations and a dialogue about sexual violence, consent and coercion,” said April Cubbage, department chair for Saddleback College’s gender and sexuality studies department and an experienced sexual assault advocate and counselor. “It is important to realize that every individual has their own set of boundaries, especially when it comes to sexual behavior. Consent comes down to that no does precisely and entirely mean no.”

Cubbage explains that sexual violence and sexual assault are both terms with multiple meanings. Sexual violence has a broader definition that contains the spectrum of any unwanted sexual action, from sexual harassment to sexual assault.

From the perspective of a scholar or a sexual assault counselor, sexual assault can be seen as any coercive sexual action or instance where a victim feels that their voice is not heard or ignored. However, the legal definition of sexual assault is more definite and involves a clear victim and perpetrator that contains any forced, coerced or unwanted sexual act. Both sexual violence and sexual assault are caused from the negation of consent.

“Consent involves constantly checking in and communicating with your sexual partner,” Cubbage asserts. “After the word no is used, both individuals need to stop and reassess the situation or scenario.”

She adds that nonverbal cues may not necessarily succeed in averting sexual behavior because cues that do not use words or speech can differentiate from person to person and can change based on location or situation. The complexity of nonverbal cues can make it tough for consent to be assessed or asserted thoroughly.

In Ansari’s official statement concerning Grace’s allegations, he states that he believed the sexual activity that occurred between both of them was consensual. Furthermore, he takes accountability for his behavior but also explains that he was unaware the encounter was not consensual.

Besides Ansari, ex-cofounder of Miramax films Harvey Weinstein, along with actor Ben Affleck, screenwriter James Toback, comedian Louis C.K., “Gossip Girl” actor Ed Westwick, Brand New frontman Jesse Lacey and US Olympic doctor Larry Nassar are a few of more than 51 distinguished individuals who have had more than one allegation of sexually inappropriate behavior reported solely since 2017 affect their career. A survey conducted by the Pew Research Center from Nov. 29 to Dec. 4 in 2017 reports that 66% or two-thirds of American adults feel that the recurring allegations of sexual harassment and assault reflect broad societal problems in the United States.

“There needs to be more of an emphasis on comprehensive sexual education that touches on situations like what coercion feels like, tools to deal with coercion, reinforcing one’s ability to use the word no and how to self advocate,” Cubbage said.

Surprisingly, Steven Universe, a Cartoon Network based children’s show, demonstrates consent practically in the episode “Alone Together,” when characters Steven and Connie fuse into one person or body. They both communicate constantly and check in with each other throughout their unplanned experience together.

“Stevonnie, listen to me,” says Garnet, the leader of the Crystal Gems in Steven Universe about Stevonnie’s fusion. “You are not two people, and you are not one person. You, are an experience. Make sure that you’re a good experience. Now go have fun.”

When Connie goes to buy donuts, Connie remembers to stop and reassess with Steven if eating donuts with their shared body is comfortable for him.  At the rave both characters attend, Connie self advocates for their inability of feeling safe when dancing with other people. As a result, Stevonnie lets other dancers know that they are not interested in dancing together.

Steven Universe broadcasts that consent can be applied to any activity that involves listening to another person’s set of boundaries. During their experience together, Steven and Connie do not question when the other revokes or expresses their lack of consent. They both stop, reassess the scenario and tailor the experience to be comfortable and safe for each other.