Jennifer Purcell gives a personal account of her experiences of consent, and why we need more clarity for both men and women.
DISCLAIMER: this article contains content that some may find upsetting or distressing.
Lets talk about sex.
There’s been a lot of talk surrounding sex, rape and sexual consent over the last number of months, and as outspoken as I am, I never got involved in debates because to be honest, I always thought I was to blame. The more I’ve read about sexual consent and when no means no, the more I’ve thought: you know what? Maybe I was blacked out drunk. But does that make it okay for someone to have sex with me just because I didn’t forcefully object?
A group of my friends were discussing this topic last week and it started with the statement “How many times have you actually been raped if you think about it.”
I was taken aback a first, because the word ‘rape’ isn’t a word you play around with. But as we drifted back to our teenage years and how everyone our age drank copious amounts of alcohol, it really got me thinking. If I asked you how you would describe your ‘first time’, what would you say? Would you describe it as rape? Unlikely. Would you describe it as unwanted, uncomfortable, forceful?
As teenagers, we are put under so much pressure to be sexually active, and to be ‘shifting’ guys and ‘getting with people’. Those who were virgins or ‘saving themselves’ were deemed ‘losers’ and ‘misfortunes’.
We didn’t understand sex.
We didn’t know what it meant.
We didn’t appreciate how amazing a sexual relationship should feel – should it be with someone who you love and trust.
As teenagers, particularly young lads, the more girls you had sex with, the cooler you were. Did guys who slept with as many girls as they could, even think about why they were doing it or if they even fancied these girls? Most likely not.
While people might think both are to ‘blame’ for what happens during sex, there’s mixed opinions on whether it’s the boy's responsibility to know when NOT to attempt anything, or whether it’s up to the girl not to ‘dress provocatively’ and not to drink too much.
Rape is a word not to be used lightly. But what would you define as rape? If I was out of my mind drunk and stumbling across the nightclub, does that make it okay for a guy to take me home and take advantage of me? Because ‘I shouldn’t have drank so much’?
If I agreed to go home with a guy does that automatically mean I consent to sex? If I did intend it but changed my mind when I got there, is it my own fault that I’m forced upon because I chose to go home with him?
If I wear a tight dress that’s ‘up my hole’ does that mean I’m up for it?
I’m sure a lot of girls have been taken advantage of as young teens and adults. I’m sure a lot of girls are quite vulnerable and end up just ‘giving in’ for argument's sake, without really thinking about what they’re doing. I’m sure I’m not the only girl who has woken up with no recollection of what happened the night before.
You may feel violated.. or embarrassed.. or ashamed.. or scared.. or confused.. but you’ve probably never thought of it as rape. Have you?
You start kissing, things get a bit heated and they start feeling you all over. While it might make you a little uncomfortable you might let them. Before you know it, their hand is down your pants. They try again. “They’re not giving up,” you think to yourself. Before you know it, you’re laying there, just waiting for it to end. It doesn’t last long. Thankfully. They get dressed and that’s that.
You may never hear from them again.. until you cross paths one day and it’s nothing but, well, awkward.
But hey, it was ‘just a ride’ right?
Would you tell anyone? Probably not. Would you go to the guards and say you’ve been forced upon? That you’ve been raped? I can bet absolutely not. But why? Are you to blame? Do you think no one will believe you? That they’ll call you a liar and an attention seeker? Did you deserve it because you didn’t say no? Because you didn’t push them off you? Because that’s not rape?
It’s up to both the guy and girl to understand when the other person hasn’t consented to sex. You’re not stupid. You know when someone is so drunk they should be given water and taken home safely. Not seen as an opportunity to ‘pull’. It’s disgusting and quite traumatic to think that it’s a lot more common that people realise.
I should be able to wear what ever the hell I want on a night out, without being judged or preyed on for my ‘revealing clothes’. I should be able to walk home at dusk without being terrified of being attacked or pulled into an alley or side street. I should be able to walk to get a taxi home from a night out without my friends having to ring me to make sure I got out of the cab safely and in home. I should be able to go to the bathroom on my own, without worrying about being attacked or harassed. I should be able to drink as much as I like without fearing that I’ll wake up in the morning violated and abused. I should be respected when I ‘decline’ to go off with someone without being told I’m ‘stuck up’, ‘a slag’ or a ‘snob’ that thinks I’m great but really I’m ugly.
I shouldn’t have to be made feel a certain way just because I am a woman.
I was shocked and appalled to read that in an EU survey last year, 21% of Irish people believed having sex without consent is justified in certain situations.
21% of Irish people believed having sex without consent is justified.
11% of Irish people in that poll think being drunk or on drugs justifies sex without consent and 9% think it is okay if a person voluntarily goes home with someone or is wearing “revealing, provocative or sexy clothing”.
Seriously? I understand there is a very grey area over ‘sexual consent’ and mixed opinions from people on the topic. As a 22-year-old student, I still don’t know what to feel.
I do know, however, that I would have always been made believe I was at fault. For every single time.
For that one night stand, for that mistake, for that time I got too drunk, for that time I didn’t say NO loud enough. I thought it was my own fault that a guy was so persistent. That I didn’t object or try hard enough. That I was foolish and didn’t understand what I was actually doing. That I deserved what happened.
No one deserves to be forced upon.
No one deserves to be taken advantage of.
No one deserves to be raped.
There is absolutely no harm in sexual consent classes for both guys and girls, of any age. To fully understand what giving consent means and how no really does mean no.
*This is for both guys and girls, I’m simply writing it in first person. Girls need to be just as aware of what consent is.
*If you have been affected by anything you’ve read here please follow these links for help, guidance and support.
Rape crisis help: http://www.rapecrisishelp.ie/
Samaritans freephone: 116 123
Teenline freephone: 1800 833 634 or text ‘teen’ to 50015.
Piece courtesy of Jennifer's blog, http://www.justjenblog.com