How Do We Apply Our Consent Education to Social Environments?

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Living in an era bombarded by the media, sexualized imagery has become normalized in our advertising, entertainment and even personal photographs. This sexually explicit reality is reflected in our understanding of healthy sexual relationships, especially when it comes to consent. Granted, all COSSOT schools offer consent education that is thorough and legitimate. However, it is the execution of this education that often fails. From personal experience, I have found that the definition of consent is often misunderstood.  I am often arguing with my peers about the misconceptions of sexual assault, violation, and consent. We are functioning in a culture where sex, consent, and healthy relationships are still considered taboo topics, and our education is rarely implemented into everyday situations.

Recently, BSS held a summit on consent for Grade 10 and 12 students. Julia Selfe, Grade 10, felt the summit “reiterate[ed] stuff we already knew…[I think that] boys should know as well because it’s not the girls who are catcalling or forcing themselves on people… we said they should go to the boys school. They said they did.” Grade 9 UCC student Euan Lathrop says that he did partake in a consent assembly, and claimed, “It covered how no means no, and it’s not okay when they’re intoxicated.” There appears to be a disconnect between what we have learnt and how we apply it. Discussion about consent and healthy sexual relationships are not part of our everyday interactions and conversations in the COSSOT community. Nikki Winston, Grade 9 student, claims that, “Consent is not talked about with [my] friends, or discussed in relation to our social life.” This ‘hush hush’ attitude towards consent is found outside of the high school community as well. The Canadian Women’s Foundation states that, “Sexual assault is the only violent crime in Canada that is not declining. Since 1999, rates of sexual assault have remained relatively unchanged.” But the question still presents itself, why is the discussion of consent seen as awkward or unnecessary? Granted, the ‘sex’ talk with anyone can be uncomfortable during adolescence, but in a culture where youth are flooded with sexualized imagery, teenagers are learning about sex early on and therefore should start having these conversations at a younger age. We must force ourselves past this irksome conversation to instill the expectation where respect in a relationship is the minimum.

A culture that considers consent irrelevant presents serious concerns for women since, according to the Canadian Women’s Foundation, they are “ten times more likely than men to be the victim of a police-reported sexual assault in 2008.”  Until we decided to change the way we interact and condemn assault, these statistics will not decrease.

Luckily, said change is slowly starting to occur, as demonstrated by our health unit found at BSS. Ms. Jameson, health teacher at BSS, states, “The new health curriculum has health teachers teaching about consent in some forms as early as grade 2. Here [at] BSS I know first hand that consent is taught in both the middle school and in the high school.” Introducing these concepts early on normalizes consensual behaviour, and it can also assist youth in recognizing the differences between healthy sexual interactions in comparison to unhealthy ones. Overall, as BSS students we have the ability to develop a culture of respect, but we must make a conscious effort to do so. 

Below are ways that BSS students can influence a culture of consent within their own community:

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How Do We Apply Our Consent Education to Social Environments?