The single, most important thing that I am learning with the growth of this Nate Parker/ The Birth of a Nation scandal is that there needs to be more prevention education around consent and sexual assault with school-age youth.
My day job consists of coordinating and teaching these programs in middle and high schools around the Greater St. Louis area. I can assure you that MOST of the young men and women we encounter– from ALL backgrounds, school districts and socioeconomic levels– are somewhere between clueless and foggy when it comes to understanding what consent looks like.
And just to prove my point, DON’T trust me. DON’T be a 30- or 40- something-plus-year-old person challenging this post without first turning to a nearby teenage son/daughter/sister/brother/niece/nephew/neighborhood kid to ask them, point blank, “What is consent?”
Ask them what does it look like… When a girl wears a short skirt? When one or both people have been drinking? When someone has done something nice for them? When someone asks over and over and over again? When one or both people are naked?
If the answer isn’t some version of “So. If s/he didn’t give a clear and enthusiastic YES, that is NOT consent”… they are doing it wrong.
CONSENT is Happy Permission. Period.
If you have to beg, plead, manipulate, coerce, extort, shame, connive or wait for someone to be drunk or go to sleep to touch, fondle or have sex with them– you have committed sexual assault or rape.
If you have said YES (or nothing at all) but –with guilt, shame, fear, sadness, confusion, pity, worry, or doubt– had someone touch, fondle or have sex with you under the aforementioned conditions– you have been violated. And it is NOT your fault. You are not alone. And there are ways to get help. Please send me an email if you need resources.
This conversation around what Nate Parker did to a woman when he was an 18-year-old college student isn’t the first and last story we will hear about sexual assault. Sadly, we hear about it much too often. Just as sad is the energy and effort people have put into scandalizing this particular story because Parker is a famous actor who is about to debut a popular film that some people would rather not have gain traction.
But why isn’t this story more about protecting more women, men and trans-persons who face the threat of street harassment, sexual assault or rape on a daily basis? Why aren’t we talking about the power that we all have to prevent what happened with Nate Parker from happening again? Why can’t we organize to change policies about how we fund prevention and trauma-informed programs instead of organizing to change minds about going to see a damn film.
Frankly, I don’t care if you go and see The Birth of a Nation or not. However, I DO CARE about how you will address the importance of consent and ending rape culture with the next generation of impressionable 18-year-olds going to college and beyond. We all should care about that.