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Illustration by Brennan Bova

Let’s talk about consent, baby

NOV. 14–18 MARKS the second annual Consent is Sexy Week hosted by the Women’s Resource Centre (WRC) at the University of Ottawa. The campaign focuses primarily on creating a dialogue around consent and sex positivity in an effort to prevent sexual violence on and around campus.

“Opening up the discussion about … fostering consensual relationships is an integral part of ending sexual violence,” explained Quinn Blue, advocacy coordinator at the WRC. “A lot of times there are myths around if someone didn’t say ‘no,’ or didn’t say [it] physically enough [or] loud enough, that it’s their fault. We’re saying that only ‘yes’ means ‘yes.’”

According to Blue, campuses are second only to places of residence as the most common location for sexual violence to occur. The events during the week focus on building concrete skills needed to foster positive relationships, such as effective communication, which is an important factor in establishing clear boundaries.

“Consent is Sexy is about being able to ask for what you want, being able to explore what you want, and being able to have ‘yeses’ and ‘nos’ respected,” said Blue. “Anything besides that is a huge turnoff.”

The week’s events include both fun and serious topics, such as the screening of Broken Social Contracts, a documentary highlighting the importance of discussion around sexual violence in post-secondary institutions, and Venus Envy’s Erotic Talk workshop.

“I think the dirty talk workshop is a prime example of what this week is about,” said Blue. “It’s fun and helps you ask for what you want, all in a context of sex positivity and consent.”

Holly Johnson, criminology professor and sexual social policy expert at the U of O, said certain attitudes like hyper-masculini- ty, misogynistic jokes, and victim blaming help support sexual violence on campus.

“Young women are seen as being sexually available,” explained Johnson. “They also have a pretty active lifestyle; they’re dating.”

A 2004 general social survey of victimization conducted by Statistics Canada showed 5.7 per cent of women who were sexually assaulted were between the ages 15 and 24.

Johnson pointed out the importance of events like Consent is Sexy is the shift in prevention strategies, which evolved from blaming all men, to blaming the bystander effect, to finally fostering a dialogue around positive sexual experiences.

There has also been a recent boom of men’s sexual positivity campaigns. John- son said initiatives like Don’t be that Guy and My strength is Not for Hurting challenge the notions of masculinity.

“What it does is it calls on men to speak to other men,” said Johnson. “Rather than finger point and say that all men are capable of rape or benefit from a rape culture, [these] kinds of campaigns are saying that men have a role to play.”

According to Johnson, this shift makes sexual assault a societal problem, not a uniquely feminine problem.

“I think [this event] is positive because it introduces the fact that women actually can consent,” says Johnson. “They can say ‘no’ and they can say ‘yes,’ and young men ought to know the difference. It’s actually quite sexy.”

Consent is Sexy Week takes place Nov. 14–18. A complete list of scheduled events is available on the “Consent is Sexy Week!” Facebook page.

—Michelle Ferguson