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Changing our mentality about rape and consent

ON NOV. 16, the Ottawa Citizen reported on a local sex offender’s hearing, where a young man accused of rape was judged by a psychologist as fundamentally believing that only “losers” who “can’t get the girls” committed sex crimes. This man has been charged with raping a University of Ottawa student in 2005, and after committing a similar crime upon his release two months later, the Crown is seeking to have him be put in jail until the parole board deems he can be controlled within a community by the parole board.

What this man has done is undoubtedly horrid and disgusting. It brings forward the question: What is a man’s view of consent?

On more than one occasion, I have told a story to another male friend that involves me being alone with a woman. Whether we went to a movie or had lunch, the first question often asked is, “So, are you going to sleep with her?” Most guys will also admit to standing in a public space, spotting an attractive woman, and leaning over to his male friend and whispering, “I’d hit that.”

Amongst groups of guys—especially college- and university-aged guys—sexual prowess is bragged about and celebrated. Men are celebrated for sleeping with multiple partners, but they are generally the first to label a woman a “slut” if she has multiple sexual partners.

Sexuality should be talked about, especially amongst young men, but we’ve gone about it all wrong. Phrases like “hit that” have horribly negative and violent images attached to them. As men, we’ve turned sex into a sort of competition where quantity trumps quality, and this is appalling. Sex is full of emotions, so the idea that men are immune to feelings has got to end.

In sexual education, we learn about the mechanics of sex, but nothing about the emotions. This sort of teaching might be useful for colloquial talk, but this mentality of treating sex as though it’s just a physical act is where we’ve failed ourselves.

A woman is not a man. This may seem obvious, but as men, we never have the right to force anyone, especially a woman, to do anything. Forgetting to ask, or ignoring lack of consent from a woman isn’t an option.

Violence against women is an extreme case of ignoring consent, and we can all recognize that. But what about the hazier areas? Can we justify sleeping with a woman who’s too drunk to remember our name, so in the morning we can tell our buddies we “got some”?

The conversation among men needs to change. Consent is Sexy Week ran last week on our campus. I’m pleased the week’s events has started a conversation, but I fear it’s the wrong conversation.

Consent is not sexy—consent is mandatory. Without mutual consent, sex is rape. There is nothing light-hearted or fun about it, which is why I’m worried the “Consent is Sexy” campaign is now working against itself.

I would like to think we are headed in the right direction to fostering a healthier idea of what consent means, and that the right conversations are beginning to happen out there. The offender who says that only “losers” are capable of rape is wrong; rape is sex without consent, no matter who the attacker is. His defence might be unforgivable, but it’s indicative of a common mentality—one we need to question and change.

—Kyle Hansford