Opinion

Sex and consent: It's time for a conversation | Amy Johnson

April is Sexual Assault Prevention Month, but since sexual assault waits for no month, let’s chat about consent now — and then you go chat with every young person you know about consent so we don’t have a replay of Steubenville, Ohio, right here in Federal Way.

Consent is not just a lack of “no.” Consent is a real, clear, enthusiastic “yes!”

You cannot truly mutually consent this way when you are drunk, or impaired by drugs, or thinking about having sex with your boss or your teacher or someone who has developmental delays. In Washington state, you cannot legally consent to sex if you are under the age of 16, and even then, there are a whole lot of caveats.

“The biggest thing that young people told us in focus groups and individual meetings is that they see a lack of knowledge about sex as one of the main root causes of sexual assault,” according to 100conversations.org, a website put together by the King County Sexual Assault Resource Center.

The site encourages parents to have 100 conversations with their children, not just “the talk.” You can find conversation guides on the site for topics from friends to relationships to consent to bullying to media and technology.

You can also download a “Consent Power” card with lots of useful information on it that can be carried in a wallet.

Now, I’m a huge proponent of arming youth with knowledge about sexuality and pregnancy and disease prevention. But it simply isn’t enough. If we want things to get better for youth from Federal Way to Steubenville and beyond, we need to be having oodles of conversations with them — about sexuality in relation to relationships, consent, values, friendships, technology and more.

Too many youth really think it’s OK to hurt one another with words and behavior, and even with sexual contact.  It’s all of our jobs to talk to our children and other youth we know about stepping in if this happens.

“All you have to do is say something like, ‘Dude, that’s not cool’ or something that lets the person saying something nasty know that it’s not OK,” said Magda Pecsenye, who writes about being a parent at AskMoxie.org.

Bullying is tricky, and it’s not always safe for a bystander to say something. In this case, Pecsenye and I agree that you need to tell your kids to leave the room quietly and call you. We don’t care if you’re somewhere you’re not supposed to be, or not where you told us you’d be, or someplace that could get you in a lot of trouble.

“You get immunity if you’re calling for help,” said Pecsenye.

Sadly, it’s not just youth who are crying out for education and an understanding of true consent.

Last year, a Federal Way nurse who sexually assaulted a patient at St. Francis Hospital had to turn over his license. Currently, there is an alleged date rape case involving a 26-year-old Federal Way man, and a health professional in our community is currently undergoing investigation for indecent liberties.

Truly consensual sexual activity between two people who can legally, socially and enthusiastically consent to each other is “better than popcorn followed by ice cream, or a ‘Supah Ninjas’ marathon, or two snow days in a row,” Magda Pecsenye writes to her sons — and it feels that good for both people, not just one of you.

Telling our youth that discussing consent won’t make them run out and have sex — but it could save some lives.

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