February 10, 2015

Sexy, Can I?: PEACC unveils new campaign promoting consent

“L Yeah!” is about to get a new meaning. Prevention, Education and Advocacy on Campus and in the Community, U of L’s interpersonal violence prevention program, unveiled their new consent program last week.

Titled “L Yeah,” the program focuses on increasing student understanding of consent. PEACC worker and program creator Mandy Parente believes it will help combat sexual violence before it happens. She wants to battle rape culture at U of L by creating consent culture.

“We want students to be excited about asking for consent, but we don’t want students to feel pressured to give consent,” Parente said. “We realized that in trying to not have students feel as though we are treating them like rapists, that instead we would aim to get people excited about talking about consent and their wants and needs.”

In a unscientific online poll of U of L students, The Louisville Cardinal found students seem to have a general grasp on the meaning of consent.

One student described consent as “a hardcore yes without being under the influence or being coerced.”

Another described it as “the verbal acknowledgment of either the male or female, while not intoxicated, to OK having sex or other sexual acts.”

Parente sees the same general understanding in her interactions with students, but after spending last semester studying other consent policies, she realized more education could only improve that knowledge.

“They get that they have to have consent, but they don’t know how to get it,” Parente said. “They don’t know why it’s so important.”

Out of the students surveyed, 55 percent had heard of university efforts focused on consent. The remaining 45 percent were unaware of any existing programs.

“We’re currently not having these conversations,” Parente said. “We’re telling you all of these scary statistics and then we’re not talking about how you as an individual how do you keep yourself from victimizing or becoming a victim.”

The consent-specific program will also allow Parente to focus on responding to the myths about sexual consent. The most common questions: “how drunk is too drunk?”  and “how do I get consent without killing the mood?”

Out of the surveyed students, 72 percent said consent was always needed, including incidents where alcohol was involved. For Parente, the answer is simple.

“For alcohol we want students to really understand that if someone is incapacitated they cannot consent to sexual activity. Our unofficial guideline—and please do not say ‘rule of thumb’ unless you want a feminist rampage—is that if a person is too drunk to drive they are too drunk to give consent,” Parente said. “So if you wouldn’t trust the person you’re trying to be involved with to drive you home safely, you should not try to engage in sexual activity with them.”

Parente, a graduate student studying sexual violence on college campuses, felt passionately about the need for this campaign for two main reasons.

“The first is there is such a negative feeling when you tell a student you want to talk to them about consent. It’s like guys are automatically defensive because they think they will be accused of sexual assault or they are adorably awkward because they’ve never even thought about it other than ‘it ruins the mood,’” she said. Women are either incredibly compassionate or have bought into the rape myths that surround our society. “I want to help students just understand that having these conversations can be so good for you and your partner. The problem though is that so many students are never taught that it’s OK to talk about sex in general – much less about getting consent or about sexual violence that it’s an uphill battle right now.”

The other reason was much more personal. During undergrad, Parente’s long-time boyfriend sexually abused her. Parente wanted to create a campus where other women and men would not become victims.

“I am a survivor of sexual violence and I had so many people try to invalidate my experience because ‘you didn’t say no’–I was asleep–or ‘he was your boyfriend, he had a right’ or ‘you should have just put out’ or whatever,” Parente said. “I want to really help other young people realize that none of that is true – your experience is valid.”

To create the awareness Parente fights for, L Yeah will be presented in conjunction with PEACC’s Green Dot program, which focuses on the power of the bystander in preventing sexual violence. Someone who intervenes in a volatile situation, rather than standing by, is known as a Green Dot. Parente believed the two are compatible because asking for consent is preventing an act of violence.

“If we can really teach our students about the importance of consent, and what consent really is – it’s not just that someone doesn’t say no – then hopefully other students won’t have to go through what I went through when I was a freshman,” Parente said.


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