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AASECT Position Statement on Consent and Sexual Violence
The American Association of Sexuality Educators, Counselors, and Therapists (AASECT) affirms that freedom from sexual violence (including but not limited to harassment, assault, coercion, threats, abuse, and rape) is a human right. Individuals of all genders, orientations, and identities should be free to choose when (and if) they engage in sexual behaviors and with whom. Any verbal coercion, manipulation, pressure or sex against an individual's will is never acceptable.
Consent is more than saying “yes.”
Consent is complex and nuanced. The verbal and nonverbal markers of consent are socially constructed under a premise of the fallacy of the false dichotomy “yes” and “no.” (Fahs & McLelland, 2016).
University of Michigan’s Sexual Assault Prevention and Awareness Center states “consent is when someone agrees, gives permission, or says "yes" to sexual activity with other persons. Consent is always freely given and all people in a sexual situation must feel that they are able to say "yes" or "no" or stop the sexual activity at any point.”
Consent is mutually:
- Clear and Unambiguous
- Withdrawn at any point
Rather than verbal or written contracts, the ability to stop or say no at any point is a crucial; component (Leader, 2016). Consent, as a discrete and absolute, is being challenged. Consent must be freely given, reversible, informed, enthusiastic, and specific - meaning that all parties involved are free to give consent, revoke consent at any time, are informed about what they are consenting to, enthusiastic about the activities that they are going to engage in, and know specifically what they will be doing and with whom. (Planned Parenthood).
It is important to understand behaviors within a social context that necessitates shared meanings, concepts, assumptions, and expectations. Furthermore, understanding the historical, political, and social constructs that influence perceptions based on power is invaluable (Fahs & McLelland, 2016.)
Understanding the difference between agency and autonomy are essential to the conversations on consent. Autonomy is the ability to make a decision independent of others. Agency is the capacity and the capability to put into effect an autonomous decision. Capacity is defined as the mental, emotional, and physical awareness to make an autonomous decision. Capability is defined as the ability to make a decision without the fear of reprisal, loss of social status, violence, and being ostracized socially and professionally.
#MeToo: The need.
Over 10 years ago, Tarana Burke initiated the #metoo movement to expose the often underreported and overlooked phenomenon of sexual violence against women of color
Its resurgence in 2017, partly in response to reports of sexual violence in the entertainment industry, highlighted the prevalence of sexual violence across the globe. While some have expressed shock and even disbelief at these revelations of frequent and systemic sexual harassment and violence, research shows that these experiences are entirely too common. In the U.S., about 1 in 3 women and nearly 1 in 6 men experienced some form of contact sexual violence during their lifetime reports according to the Data Brief for National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey published in 2017. Historically marginalized communities experience even higher rates of violence. For example, 1 in 2 transgender persons experience sexual violence in their lifetime. It is likely that sexual violence is under-reported because many individuals are unable or incapable of coming forward.
Multiple studies show that violence against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer people is greater than that of violence against heterosexual and cisgender people (National Coalition of Anti-Violence, 2017.). The devaluing of consent among the LGBTQ communities is in part due to the oppressive heterosexism and sexual privilege that inform sexual scripts, mores, normal versus abnormal, and agency. Many studies confirm that racism and sexism increases the prevalence of sexual assault and violence with people of color across all groups.
According to the National Crime Victimization Survey (NCVS) people with disabilities suffer the highest rates of sexual violence of all populations. Disabled persons suffer from a lack of education about consent and sexual health, and allegations of sexual violence in this group are often dismissed and/or underreported.
#MeToo: Public Outcry
In 2018, Kimberlee Crenshaw, leading theorist on critical race theory, begs the question, “What is the lesson plan that comes out of this teachable moment?”
AASECT specifically acknowledges the courageous work of Kimberlee Crenshaw, Anita Hill, and Christine Blasey Ford for speaking out and standing up to power. Anita Hill’s testimony galvanized the consciousness evolution and borne frameworks that critically examine constructs of sexuality and sexual expression within the context consent. Over the decades the impact Hill/Thomas hearings continues to inform contemporary discourse and exposes systems of oppression. As a result, the number of high profile sexual violence cases continues to grow.
AASECT applauds those who have spoken out about their experiences while also recognizing that there are those who cannot or will not come forward due to numerous factors including oppression, safety, and fear. AASECT believes in the autonomy and agency of self-determination. As an organization of sex educators, counselors, and therapists, we believe best professional practices must acknowledge that survivors deserve support, power dynamics vary with respect to race, ethnicity, socio-economic class, gender identity, orientation, and more.
AASECT acknowledges that healing means different things for different people over the lifespan.
The effects of sexual violence are varied. Some of the many people who experience sexual violence have significant acute and long term negative effects on their physical, emotional, mental, and sexual health. Other people may experience fewer trauma-induced symptoms. While the magnitude of effects may vary, sexual violence should never be excused. All human beings deserve to have their bodily autonomy and their consent
sought and respected. AASECT affirms its commitment to working with survivors to help facilitate their personal healing processes in the ways appropriate to our providers’ different disciplines.
All About Consent. Planned Parenthood. Retrieved from: https://www.plannedparenthood.org/learn/teens/sex/all-about-consent
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(Board Approved 2019)