Due to overwhelming controversy about my last article 35 Wrong Ways to Ask for Sex, it behooves me that people are still debating about what sexual assault really is. As a sexual educator, survivor, and human rights activist, I'm here to set the record straight: rape is much more than "no means no."
No will always mean no - that's a given (for us decent folk), but, today we are going to examine when "yes" is not actually "yes".
Apprehensive consent is a "yes" that is given when someone is coerced, threatened, or pressured. Imagine someone holding a gun and threatening someone for sex. Now, take the gun away and imagine the same scene: a menacing glare, threatening words and gestures, making the other person feel unsafe and uncomfortable while they are coerced into sexual activity. Lastly, take it down another notch, to a couple making out when one decides they do not want to go further, but, is pressured until they cave. All of the above scenarios are examples of sexual assault. Rape can happen in the subtlest of ways and is not always paired with violence.
Some argue, "learn how to speak up for yourself. Just say "no." But nos are often ignored and become impossible to say when someone feels like they have no choice. The CONTEXT in which consent is given is the most important part and needs to be taken seriously by us as individuals, by court officials & police, and by the whole of society.
Many of you have heard of fight or flight, however, not many know about dissociation or the freeze response.
Disassociation is a natural defense mechanism that detaches you from the traumatic event that is taking place. When a survivor disassociates during an attack, it doesn't mean that they liked it or accepted it, it means that their body was trying to protect them by blocking out the experience. When I was twelve years old, I completely disassociated from the man molesting me. I had an out-of-body experience, as if I was watching the entire scene from the ceiling. This detachment from reality is called dissociation.
The second type of defense mechanism is called the freeze response. The freeze response (also known as the immobility response) is a defense mechanism that causes the body and voice to become paralyzed. I experienced this and lived with the guilt from it when I was sexually assaulted by a family member during my first year of college. I was completely caught off guard when we were watching a movie in his room like we always did, when suddenly, he started feeling me up. Terrified of what would happen next, I let him have his way because I felt coerced, pressured, and threatened. He didn't have to say a world for me to know that my life was in danger. Out of nowhere, my throat tightened and voice froze, I wasn't able to say anything at all, let alone utter "no".
These two natural primal responses are the main reasons that most survivors don't fight back, scream, or run during an assault. Because their primal state is taking control, they have no say in the situation. This does not make it any less of a rape. If you consented apprehensively, dissociated, and/or could not say no, it was not your fault.
Understanding these defense mechanisms helps us create a culture of consent by helping us shift our focus back on the rapist, where it belongs. These explanations help us have more compassion for ourselves as survivors and for others who have experienced sexual assault.
Apprehensive consent is rape and it will always be. If you'd like to create a culture of consent, start by sharing and/or using the 35 Sexy Ways to Ask for Consent!
Now, it's time for the laws to adjust accordingly so that our justice system can finally live up to its name.
For more information on how to create a culture of consent, follow me on Instagram at @ambertheactivist and @creatingconsentculture