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Sexual consent: yes, no, maybe

By Bettina Arndt - posted Friday, 8 September 2017

"Verbal consent can be given directly in loads of different ways. Your partner may say things like: 'That feels good. Do it this way. Fuck me .YES! More! Keep going. Don't stop!...'"

"Always stop if you hear your partner say: 'No. I don't know. I'm not sure. Not now. I'm worried. Stop. Get off! Fuck off! Don't do that. Ouch. Not again. Do I have to?"

What's really odd is the person sending these messages are so rarely directly addressed in the programme. It's assumed the women are inert. They are like pot plants on a gardening show teaching people how do determine if the plant has dried out. Are the leaves wilting? Flowers dropping off? Insert fingers into the soil to test for dampness.


RMIT social justice professor Nicola Henry, an expert adviser to Epigeum, boasts on video that their courses focus on perpetrators and bystanders rather than victims. These "don't-rape" courses have no interest in teaching women to take proper ownership of the decision-making process that leads to a yes or no, let alone encouraging them to express those wishes clearly rather than keep men guessing.

Back in the 1990s I made a programme on sexual consent – Yes, No, Maybe - as a guest reporter on Four Corners. I had no trouble finding women who acknowledged they deliberately drink to avoid making decisions around consent. Women who admitted to playing games where they said no but wanted men to push through that resistance – a popular themes in hugely popular bodice ripper novels.

None of these complexities are addressed in the sexual consent programmes. The gender-neutral course contains only small nuggets of advice which even arguably target women: "You always have the right to change your mind about any kind of sexual activity – even right before or during sex." And "If someone forces (or tries to force) you to do something sexual that you don't want to do, remember that it's never your fault and it's not okay."

No one would deny the importance of the 'don't rape' message – sexual assault is rightly a very serious criminal offence. And it makes sense to change the male culture so bystanders are empowered to intervene when women are being harassed or attacked. Yet it's shocking that feminists have persuaded our universities to absolve women of all responsibility for behaving sensibly and not putting themselves in harm's way.

Camille Paglia, speaking at a Battle of Ideas, pointed out that back in the 1960's women fought against women being locked up at night in single sex dormitories. "We are the ones who said, 'Get out of our private lives.' The colleges said, 'No, the world is dangerous. We must protect you against rape.'

And the response to from Paglia's generation of women? "Give us the freedom to risk rape. That is true adulthood, " said Paglia.


Evidence suggests that the current revival of paternalistic attitudes towards women won't protect them. An article, Efficacy of a Sexual Assault Resistance Program for University Women, published in the New England Journal of Medicine two years ago showed the passive-woman sexual consent programmes aren't working. "Most campuses use programmes that have never been formally evaluated or have not proved to be effective in reducing the incidence of sexual assault," said the leading author, Canadian sociology professor Charlene Senn spelling out disappointing results for programmes similar to those being introduced in Australia.

Senn's resistance program, which teaches women to recognise dangerous situations and resist sexual coercion, apparently reduces the incidence of date rapes by almost 50 per cent.Rape resistance is about teaching women how to say "no earlier and more effectively", helping them to be "more confident and sure of their own desires" and "get past emotional roadblocks to resist unwanted sexual behaviour."

It sounds promising, although Senn, who describes herself as a "feminist activist", defines sexual assault to including having sex because "you feared you'd lose your relationship if you didn't." And the professor is dead against telling women to let fear restrict their lives: "If you are drinking 12 drinks, there's no risk of rape unless there's someone around who's willing to rape. The risk is not in the alcohol."

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This article was first published in The Australian. Bettina Arndt is now vlogging, and her latest can be watched by clicking here.

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About the Author

Bettina Arndt is a sociologist.

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