“Nonconsensual sex”: Evidence that we must continue the conversation about the meaning of consent

“Nonconsensual sex”: Evidence that we must continue the conversation about the meaning of consent

By Sarah Hunter

In the mid-90’s, Brett Sokolow, a legal consultant for higher educational institutions, coined the term “nonconsensual sex” to use as an alternative to rape and sexual assault in policy related to student conduct. Sokolow intended to introduce this stigma-free language in the hope that schools would go after perpetrators with more force than they were, as Sokolow observed that schools were hesitant to call their students rapists. This is all illustrated further by Claire Gordon of Al Jazeera America in her May 12th article that questions the efficacy and judiciousness of using “nonconsensual sex” to describe something as heinous as rape.

For survivors of rape and sexual assault, labeling their experiences as an instance of “nonconsensual sex” feels disempowering. Perhaps this could even reinforce the tendency of victims to remain silent. Additionally, some have pointed out that even though labeling assault as simply “nonconsensual” may make it easier for an institution to go after a perpetrator without fear of litigation related to defamation, in the end, it may also make it more difficult for an institution to expel rapists.

For activists, it doesn’t take a stretch of the imagination to understand the damage done to one’s psyche when those in power do not fully recognize one’s suffering. As of late, this has been the story unfolding on seemingly every college campus in America. However, there’s something to be said for cases like the one Calvin Gross alludes to in “The Importance of Clear Consent”, a case in which the alleged perpetrator and the victim provide different accounts of the encounter. Sometimes intercourse and other sexual acts seem consensual to one of the involved parties and not to the other– this often occurs while under the influence, but it’s plausible that lack of solid communication even while sober can make for the same situation.

While I’m not suggesting that some types of assault are better or less worse than others, I am suggesting that it’s easy to see how any college student could become implicated in a case in which the assault is not, at first glance, blatantly and obviously assault. I think this is due in part to the lack of education about what constitutes consent and what doesn’t, and I think the only solution we can provide to this problem is Education, Education, Education, and more Education.

As part of the PWC movement, we are responsible for empowering our peers to make healthy and responsible decisions. Because every situation has its own nuances, it’s important for us to talk extensively about the circumstances that make an encounter one from which one should walk away.


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