By Tillie Powell
This post is one of eight in the center’s You Might Be Causing Harm If . . . campaign.
When we picture sexual assault, we often think about a random stranger jumping out of the bushes and attacking a pretty, young woman. Since we focus so much on these incidents of sexual violence, we tend to overlook the more common types of harm that can occur between people who know each other. They’re your friend, you might’ve hooked up before and you may even be in a committed relationship. You’re certainly not jumping out of any bushes, but you can probably recognize that the hookup was a little off … so, what went wrong?
We don’t really talk about the grey area that exists between sex where consent is enthusiastically given and sex where consent is clearly denied. Not all sex is sexy sex; there’s sex that was verbally consented to but not wanted, sex that happens when you’re drunk, sex that starts out wanted and gradually becomes unwanted, sex where one partner is tuned out and on and on. If you ever feel like you may be in one of these grey areas, where you’re unsure if your partner is comfortable, just stop! We can’t just write these hookups off as awkward and refuse to reflect because then we might be missing the harm we’ve caused.
What do we do about it? There’s not a simple, easy answer, so we need to start small. Start by listening. If someone you hooked up with later expresses regret or tells you that something went wrong, LISTEN. It’s painful and uncomfortable to hear that we have hurt someone, especially when it comes to sex.
But that doesn’t mean that they’re just overreacting or regretful. Did they ever hesitate or look withdrawn? Did you have to keep asking them to do what you wanted? Did you stop to ask if they were enjoying themselves? These may be signs that it wasn’t just a bad hookup. In fact, this could have been a sexual assault. In either case, there’s cause for deeper reflection and amends.
Note: Learn more about the You Might Be Causing Harm If . . . campaign and other topics covered at this link.
Tillie Powell (she/her/hers) is studying health and kinesiology with an emphasis in community health education. She is a student staff member at the McCluskey Center for Violence Prevention Research & Education.