What Would Happen if They Said No?

By: Jasmine Torres, Educator at the Katie Brown Educational Program 

As a child, I dreaded my mother tuning into talk radio on our ride into school. I wanted to listen to music, not annoying adults talking about boring and lame… whatever they were talking about. Evidently, as I grew and became more interested in the world outside my own, talk radio didn’t seem so bad. In early October of this year, I tuned into the radio while on my drive into work. That day, I was facilitating a workshop at a local high school during their first period health class. During this time, radio stations and social media outlets were inundated with news about the recent Harvey Weinstein sexual assault accusations. About 30 minutes later, I arrived at the school, turned off the radio and mentally prepared to meet a new group of teens who may or may not be excited to meet me.

Today was day one, and I would be talking with the high school students about dating violence, which includes a segment on sexual violence. The majority of this conversation is about consent. At KBEP, we want students to understand that consent goes beyond someone just saying “yes.” What else is required to safely and securely give permission to any form of sexual activity? The class, to my luck, enthusiastically participated and we efficiently moved through each form of violence- physical, verbal, emotional, financial and sexual.

Fear and power are themes discussed throughout each form of violence. For sexual violence: what if someone is afraid of the person, or afraid of the repercussions of saying, “no,” so they feel they have no other choice but to say “yes?” Is that consensual? – Or what if they are pressured or guilted or threatened into the act, is that consensual? Students began to vocalize their understanding that no, someone is not consenting if they are afraid or coerced. Well, what about power? Is it consensual if there is an imbalance of power? On this day, this question immediately made me think of my earlier ride to the school, listening to the radio:

KBEP Educator: “Have any of you heard of the recent Harvey Weinstein sexual assault allegations?”

Students: nodded their heads or enthusiastically yell..  “yeah! yeah! yeah, I think so.”

KBEP Educator: “For those who haven’t, news and social media has been flooded with stories from several different actresses coming forward about sexual assaults they’ve experiences at the hands of Harvey Weinstein, an American Film Producer.” … “Harvey Weinstein, as a Producer, is someone who has a lot of power, can we all agree on that?”

Students: “Yes.”

KBEP Educator: “What might happen if someone said no to his sexual advances?”.

Students: umm, maybe fired… or even blacklisted!

Me: “Exactly. Think of it like this, their futures and careers could be in the palm of his hand. These actresses are attempting to better themselves and move forward with their lives and he’s jeopardizing that by holding his power over them. If an actress denies him or tells someone what he did, she risks her future.”

If individuals are going to engage in sexual activity, they need to be equals; having equal stake in the relationship. It is not a consensual relationship if someone has all the power and the other person has none. Notions of fear and power are combined and incorporated into our conversations with middle and high school students about consent. Harvey Weinstein, and people like him, who use their power to coerce others into sexual encounters are an unfortunate reality in our society. We all need to engage with youth about healthy relationships which includes conversations about consent, equality, and respect.

For more information on consent please contact the team at the Katie Brown Educational Program at 508.676.4466. Additional information and support can be found by calling the safe and confidential National Sexual Assault Hotline, 800.656.HOPE (4673)