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COLUMN: Only yes means yes — what everyone should understand about consent

Every year, 1,500 women are killed by a significant other, according to FBI statistics.

"Men are afraid that women will laugh at them. Women are afraid that men will kill them." 

This Margaret Atwood quote describes the gender oppression reality women face. 

It's not uncommon for women to be ridiculed for "leading a guy on." However, it's typically a strategy women employ to avoid saying no. I know I personally, as well as some of my friends, have had to awkwardly lead a conversation in an uncomfortable direction because we were afraid to say no to a man. 

I'm afraid that they will demand more than a simple no from me, or that they will become angry because of my denial. I try to remove myself from the situation as fast as possible but it's not always easy because I fear saying no and must work my way around the topic. 

No should be accepted as an entire sentence, without any further explanation. Unfortunately though, there are many stories of men turning violent due to rejection from women. 

In 2014, Elliot Rodger killed six people, left behind a 140-page sexist manifesto and videos in which he stated: “I don’t know why you girls aren’t attracted to me but I will punish you all for it.” 

In April 2018, Alek Minassian killed 10 pedestrians, most women, in a fatal van crash, according to Time. Minassian was a member of an online group of "involuntary celibate" men who blamed women for rejecting them.

The May 2018 Santa Fe high school mass shooter, who left 10 dead, was rejected by his first victim, Sadie Rodriguez, according to the LA Times

Some men believe they are entitled access to women simply for being alive. Women are people too, and their bodies are their own to choose what to do with. They must say yes before men are allowed to be intimate with them. 

Yes is the only acceptable answer. The absence of no does not mean yes.

Men should understand that women have as much free will as they do and it is their choice of how intimate they do or do not want to be. If you sense hesitation, that is a no. If it's a drunken answer, it is a no. If she is unconscious, that is undoubtedly a no. The only answer that should allow continued intimacy is yes. 

It's a simple concept-- yet every 98 seconds, an American is sexually assaulted, according to RAINN.

Our society shies away from discussing the topic which leads to confusion on the part of the aggressor. Take for example, successful actor Aziz Ansari. In response to an allegation of sexual assault by a woman who went on a date with him, he explained that he believed the event to be completely consensual. Ansari made a statement about the encounter to Time

"The next day, I got a text from her saying that although 'it may have seemed okay,' upon further reflection, she felt uncomfortable. It was true that everything did seem okay to me, so when I heard that it was not the case for her, I was surprised and concerned. I took her words to heart and responded privately after taking the time to process what she had said."

This situation sparked a lot of debate on the topic of consent but feminist author Jessica Valenti accurately captured the importance of the scenario in a single tweet. Valenti tweeted, "A lot of men will read that post about Aziz Ansari and see an everyday, reasonable sexual interaction. But part of what women are saying right now is that what the culture considers 'normal' sexual encounters are not working for us, and oftentimes harmful."

The part of the culture that Valenti is referring to is how the lack of saying no too often becomes a yes, in the eyes of men, within sexual encounters. This is unacceptable. Without explicit consent, the answer is no. 

When it comes to matters of intimacy, consent is a necessary step. Consent is required. Anything other than yes, is not consent. 

Yes is the only acceptable answer.