Data suggests these women don’t live in areas where conversations are happening around consent.
When it comes to most Americans’ understanding of rape, we’re living in a more enlightened time than just a few years ago. Conversations around consent are commonplace, especially on college campuses where young women are most vulnerable to sexual assault. The National Sexual Violence Resource Center reports that 1 in 5 women will be raped in their lifetimes, while 1 in 4 female college students will experience sexual assault. People are frankly starting to discuss the meanings of “yes” and “no” when it comes to sex.
But maybe we haven’t made as much progress as we thought.
A survey conducted by the educational company StudySoup asked over 1,000 participants to define sexual assault and consent. Interestingly, 12 percent of women surveyed said that consent cannot be withdrawn during sex. As for men, 14 percent think consent can only be given at the beginning of a hookup.
It’s not hard to imagine a scenario where a woman might give consent and then withdraw it during sex. Say she starts feeling too drunk, or the encounter begins to feel violent. At any point during the act, she has the right to stop participating if she is uncomfortable, physically or psychologically. As Alison Saunders writes in the Guardian, “You wouldn’t force or pressure someone into having a cup of tea, and you can tell when someone wants a cup of tea or not. If someone says they want a cup of tea one minute, they can change their mind the next and should not be pressured to drink the tea.”
Who are these women who believe consent can only be revoked beforehand? StudySoup reveals some interesting data. Of the 12 percent of women who don’t think consent can be withdrawn during sex, 45 percent are Democrats. But with 36 percent identifying as Republicans, their line of thinking when it comes to consent doesn’t seem to have much to do with political leaning or ideology.
The 12 percenters are also mostly married (43 percent) and living in suburban areas (50 percent). It’s likely that conversations around consent are happening in mostly urban areas and among younger, unmarried people.
So why do these women not believe that a woman has the right to withdraw consent during sex? One reason they might think this way is that the consent issue is relatively new, and full understanding of it is sadly murky. As Jessica Valenti explains, the legal definition of rape has changed significantly in the past century, and it understandably takes time for society’s thinking to catch up.
“The further back we go in American history, the more horrifyingly narrow our definition of rape gets. It used to be that women had to prove they ‘put up a fight’ if they wanted to be believed, or show that they were chaste. This thinking is not even that far behind us,” Valenti writes.
While those in the Trump camp like Betsy DeVos want to make it harder for female college students to come forward when they experience sexual assault or rape, the consent movement is growing unstoppably. Hopefully, the understanding that consent can be withdrawn even after sex has begun will grow as well.
Liz Posner is an associate editor at AlterNet. Her work has appeared on Forbes.com, Bust, Bustle, Refinery29, and elsewhere. Follow her on Twitter at @elizpos.
This originally appeared on Alternet. Republished here with permission.