By Travis Burdick
Violence Prevention Educator
In April, we remind ourselves about the prevalence and far-reaching effects of sexual violence in our community for Sexual Assault Awareness Month. Sexual assault can be an uncomfortable subject for anyone to talk about, but when we don’t talk about it, we make it more difficult to prevent.
Understanding and talking about consent is at the heart of how we can prevent sexual violence in Carbon County. Talking about consent can start at any age—communicating consent is not just limited to sexual activity, it should be part of any interaction between people. Communicating consent can be casual or formal, verbal or nonverbal, but it is the responsibility of everyone to look for signs of consent. If there is no consent we risk embarrassing, humiliating, or hurting someone. When it comes to sexual interactions, if we don’t look for consent or we don’t respect the right of another to say “no,” we are committing the crime of sexual assault.
For pre-school and elementary age kids, we can teach them to ask permission for a hug; we don’t force kids to hug someone they don’t want to hug—this teaches kids that their body is their own and that others must ask permission before crossing any boundary.
With middle and high school age kids, we can discuss the nuances and dynamics of consent. With our education program, Power Up, Speak Out!, we teach “Consent must be given in a free and clear mindset”—someone cannot give consent when there is force, pressure, surprise, significant age or power difference, or if someone is intoxicated. “Consent is activity specific”—just because someone consented to holding hands, doesn’t mean they consent to any other activity. “Consent is an active process between two people”—both people should enthusiastically consent to an activity. Finally, we teach that “Consent can be taken back at any time”—everyone has a right to change their mind at any time.
To get a sense of the impact of sexual assault in our county, please visit the Sole Survivor exhibit in Downtown Red Lodge next to the Beartooth Gallery. We encourage you to view the exhibit, and then have a conversation about consent with someone you care about.
If you or someone you know is in an abusive relationship, call the 24-7 helpline at 425-2222.
Travis Burdick is a Violence Prevention Educator with Power Up, Speak Out!, the education program of Domestic and Sexual Violence Services.