Ask for consent every step of the way

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Last month, a letter from an unidentified brother of the Phi Kappa Tau fraternity at the Georgia Institute of Technology was published on the Internet. In this letter, the brother enumerates techniques to pick up girls at parties. It is signed, “in luring rapebait.” Obviously, the letter is decidedly creepy, but the brother uses a few interesting phrases. For instance, at one point he writes, “ALWAYS START WITH THE MAKING OUT!!!! NO RAPING.”

This letter got me thinking. A few of the other techniques he discusses in the letter have some extremely questionable implications in terms of consent (mostly his, “if anything fails, go get more alcohol,” point), but this point is the only time that the brother acknowledges that some of his techniques could lead to rape. Did the fraternity brother really fail to understand that a kiss and consent are two very different things?

As Jamie Utt of the Good Men Project points out in his article, "Open Letter to the Rapey Frat Brother and the 'How to Get Laid' Generation," this boy may not actually understand what rape is. Utt argues in his open letter that America’s cultural definitions of consent and sex are so skewed that some people simply don’t understand what is defined as consent and what is defined as rape. If society lacks a clear cultural language about sex, then a culture that allows sexual assault is almost inevitable.

The fraternity brother repeatedly suggests that other brothers get girls to grind against them or sneak kisses on girls’ necks or cheeks as the first step. He also says, “don’t finger them... yet,” and says nothing about actually asking someone if it’s okay to touch their genitals. It’s not necessary to explicitly ask to kiss someone — though it is deeply necessary to pay attention to the person you’re kissing, and if they seem at all uncomfortable, you should most definitely stop — but the idea of fingering or touching anyone else in that manner without express permission is deeply problematic.

What, exactly, is so wrong with asking for permission? Why advocate for a culture that encourages pushing the envelope as far as possible, instead of checking in with a prospective partner? Culturally, people have this idea that consent to one thing is consent to everything, which is why sexual assault victims are often asked how they were behaving or what they were wearing at the time of the attack. However, consent to kissing on a dance floor is not consent to being fingered on a dance floor; consent to being fingered is not consent to any other kind of sexual contact.

Consent must be obtained for each and every step of the process; it cannot be implied by skirt length or a smile. Consent can only be given by a clear, enthusiastic, and repeated “yes.”