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viewpoint

Yes means yes

| Monday, October 13, 2014

No means no.

It’s a phrase we’ve all surely heard somewhere — be it in the confines of a discussion about sexual assault, when listening to a punk rock band (though in all caps and without the spaces) or simply making a joke to a friend who is off to hook up with a girl at a party.

But what does it actually mean? It has long been the mantra of sexual assault awareness in this country — the idea that if a receiving party says “no” to a sexual advance, then that means to not go after it. I said “receiving party” because male-on-male and female-on-male sexual assault does occur — one in 10 sexual assault victims in America are males.

The issue with “no means no?” Twofold.

First, if we adopt a “no means no” stance, then what are we do to with a receiving party that, well, does not say anything? “No means no” allows us to adopt a doctrine where a lack of consent actually in turn indicates consent — it’s the whole “well, she didn’t say no” situation, which really should not mean anything at all.

A Google image search of the phrase “she didn’t say no” will yield, among other things, an advertisement from the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board that advertises “She didn’t want to do it, but she couldn’t say no.” This shows the link between “sexual interaction that is okay” and “she didn’t say no.”

If I ask you if I can punch you in the face and you don’t say no, I’d still like to think we’d all agree that your lack of response doesn’t make it okay for me to punch you in the face. Why is it any different with sexual assault?

Second and perhaps more important than the gray area, an anti-sexual assault campaign centered around “no means no” is inherently negative in nature — it places the burden on the receiving party to decline sexual advances rather than to accept them.

This presents a situation where the expectation is that the receiving party desires the sexual encounter in question. That’s an issue. Sexual encounters should never be the expectation, especially when you’re dealing with a standard “hook up” situation.

It’s why California’s recently-passed law “yes means yes” law on sexual assault on college campuses is a huge step in the right direction. No longer can that gray area be considered okay. No longer is it expected that the receiving party desires the sexual interaction.

The law requires “an affirmative, unambiguous and conscious decision” from each party to engage in sexual action. Sexual assault policy seems to be difficult in our society. It doesn’t have to be. Make it clear.

Yes means yes.

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About Alex Carson

Alex Carson graduated from Notre Dame in 2017 after majoring in Applied and Computational Mathematics and Statistics and living in O’Neill Hall. Hailing from the Indianapolis area, but born in Youngstown, Ohio, Carson is a Cleveland sports fan convinced that he’s already lived the “best day of his life.”At The Observer, Carson was first a Sports Writer, then served as an Associate Sports Editor (2015/16) and an Assistant Managing Editor (2016/17), before finishing his tenure as a Senior Sports Writer.A man of strong convictions, he ardently believes that Carly Rae Jepsen's 2015 release E•MO•TION is the greatest album of his generation, and wakes up early on Saturday mornings to listen, or occasionally watch, his favorite least-favorite sports team, Aston Villa.When he isn’t writing, Carson spends his time counting down the days to the next running of the Indianapolis 500 and reminding people that the Victory March starts with the lyric, “Rally sons of Notre Dame,” not “Cheer, cheer for Old Notre Dame.”

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  • Anon
    • ND Student

      Is it REALLY that hard to stop for 2 seconds and ask “do you want to do this” and get a “yes”? Is affirmative consent really a problem because it requires marginally more effort to respect your partner’s boundaries?

      What do you propose as an alternative to “yes means yes” that still successfully underscores the importance of affirmative consent?