This month’s bulletin topic is Consent-- what it is, where it comes from, and perspectives on its practical application. In this bulletin, you will find facts, articles, videos and history about consent laws and how society has viewed consent over the years.
Discrimination: The mistreatment of an individual or group based on their social membership, regardless of their social power. Anyone can experience discrimination.
Social Power: Access to resources that enhance one’s chances of getting what one needs in order to lead a comfortable, productive and safe life.
Privilege: Unearned access to resources (social power) that are only readily available to some people because of their social group membership; an advantage, or immunity granted to or enjoyed by one societal group above and beyond the common advantage of all other groups. Privilege is often invisible to those who have it.
Target or Oppressed Identities: Social groups that are negatively valued, considered to be inferior, abnormal, or dependent and given limited access to resources and social power.
Agent or Privileged Identities: Social groups that are positively valued considered superior, independent, or “normal” and have access to resources and power.
Oppression: When an agent group, whether knowingly or unknowingly, abuses a target group. This pervasive system is rooted historically and maintained through individual and institutional/systematic discrimination, personal bias, bigotry, and social prejudice, resulting
in a condition of privilege for the agent group at the expense of the target group; reinforced by law, policy and cultural norms that allow for differential treatment on the basis of identity. Only people groups that do not have social power can experience oppression.
(Discrimination + Social Power = Oppression)
Internalization: Internalization is a process through which we come to identify parts of our culture as parts of ourselves, especially in relation to norms and values. This is a crucial process in maintaining social systems because it leads people to regulate their own behavior in accordance with accepted forms rather than having to be monitored and corrected by external authorities.
Sexual consent: An active process of willingly and freely choosing to participate in sex of any kind with someone else, and a shared responsibility for everyone engaging in, or who wants to engage in, any kind of sexual interaction with someone. When there is a question or invitation about sex of any kind, when consent is mutually given or affirmed, the answer on everyone's part is an enthusiastic yes.
The first recorded age-of-consent law dates from 1275 in England; as part of its provisions on rape, the Statute of Westminster 1275 made it a misdemeanor to "ravish" a "maiden within age," whether with or without her consent. The phrase "within age" was later interpreted by jurist Sir Edward Coke as meaning the age of marriage, which at the time was 12 years of age. Age of consent laws were, historically, difficult to follow and enforce: legal norms based on age were not, in general, common until the 19th century, because clear proof of exact age and precise date of birth were often unavailable.
In the United States, as late as the 1880s most States set the minimum age at 10–12, (in Delaware it was 7 in 1895). Inspired by the "Maiden Tribute" articles, female reformers in the US initiated their own campaign which petitioned legislators to raise the legal minimum age to at least 16, with the ultimate goal to raise the age to 18. The campaign was successful, with almost all states raising the minimum age to 16–18 years by 1920.
Initiatives in sex education programs are working towards including and foregrounding topics of and discussions of sexual consent, in primary, high school and college Sex Ed curricula. In the UK, the Personal Social Health and Economic Education Association (PSHEA) is working to produce and introduce Sex Ed lesson plans in British schools that include lessons on "consensual sexual relationships," "the meaning and importance of consent" as well as "rape myths". In U.S., California-Berkeley University has implemented affirmative and continual consent in education and in the school’s policies. In Canada, the Ontario government has introduced a revised Sex Ed curriculum to Toronto schools, including new discussions of sex and affirmative consent, healthy relationships and communication.
Sexual Violence PSA
Consent (in catchy song form)
Laci Green on what consent is and is not
Consent is like a bike ride
QUESTIONS TO PONDER
- What, if anything, have you learned about consent in health class, at home, or from your community?
- How does consent apply to situations that are not sexual? Do you think these conversations are also important ones to have?
- Who is responsible for obtaining consent?
- What stereotypes in society lead to an unwillingness to talk about consent?
- How do you think consent should be taught? Who should teach it?
- Can you think of an example of a situation (one you’ve been in, one you’ve heard about, or made-up) where people have successfully had conversations around consent? What did this situation look like?
- How does our society’s attitude towards consent contribute to rape culture?