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Vakil: Schools should have more thoughtful discussion on rape, consent

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Vakil: Schools should have more thoughtful discussion on rape, consent

Caroline Vakil, Columnist

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Growing up, I had a good grasp of the words “rape” and “consent.” Like many students, in high school I was taught that “no means no” and that women are never “asking for it.” Rape myths were dispelled early on and our discussions about sexual consent were respectful and understanding. I realized not everyone always had a good grasp of these definitions and ignorant people would mis-define these terms, but I thought that the number of people who felt this way were few and far between. More importantly, I thought that as a society we were more or less on the same page when it came to how we defined “rape” and “consent.”

You might imagine my surprise then when I was chatting with a friend from my high school who recounted a story of how her health teacher had misdefined the concept of rape. The teacher gave the scenario of a man asking a woman to have sex with him; the woman refused. She subsequently got drunk and the man proceeded to have sex with her, which the teacher defined as not being rape because the woman willingly got drunk and still consented to sex.

Hearing my friend recount this story, I was baffled. Given that discussions of rape and consent are prevalent both in schools and in media, I presumed most of us were on the same page when it came to unraveling myths about victim blaming and slut shaming. I believed that by now society would have come to a more conclusive understanding. More importantly, I never thought this would happen in the progressive community I grew up in.

I was the naive one to say the least.

My friend’s story raised a number of issues, for example, why it’s so important that schools maintain thoughtful discussions about words like “rape” and “consent.” Having a general understanding of these words in our society is crucial because it delineates what is acceptable and what is not. We cannot legitimize rape scenarios like getting someone drunk and then being forced to have sex.

Misinterpretations of words like “rape” and “consent” also perpetuate misunderstandings we as a society are trying to avoid, like victim blaming. I hate the idea that someone is “asking for it” if they wear certain clothing or are under the influence. If one person doesn’t want to have sex, there is a total lack of consent. And if someone is under the influence, they also cannot give out consent legally because their judgment is significantly impaired.

What was also disturbing about the gross scenario the teacher posed was how stereotypically acts like rape are frequently portrayed. Although men are typically portrayed as aggressors and women as victims — and not to say that this is not true — men can also be the victims of rape. And rape doesn’t have to be a heteronormative occurrence either. Men can be raped by other men, women by other women. There is no one “rape narrative,” and we need to be sensitive to nuances like this as a society.

If anything, this story shows that we aren’t done having discussions about rape and consent. If anything, I’ve realized the opposite — how much farther we have to go as a society to get on the same page regarding sensitive issues like sexual consent. However, a mutual understanding cannot be reached if we do not have these discussions in the first place. Students need safe spaces and an understanding community in which to have these discussions.

Further, students should not be the only ones having this conversation — staff and faculty could benefit from these talks, too. In fact, discussions with faculty are necessary because teachers serve as primary educators, their approach impacts students’ long term understanding of these issues. As my friend has clearly demonstrated, it’s easy for students to be misguided by one teacher’s misconceptions. This could have been easily prevented if faculty discussions had happened prior to classroom discussions.

Caroline Vakil is a Medill sophomore. She can be contacted at carolinevakil2018@u.northwestern.edu. If you would like to respond publicly to this column, send a Letter to the Editor to opinion@dailynorthwestern.com. The views expressed in this piece do not necessarily reflect the views of all staff members of The Daily Northwestern.

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