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Trigger Warning: This article includes mature content, including rape, sexual assault, and harassment.

Consent. Perhaps this word evokes strong emotions for you. Perhaps it triggers an unfriendly memory. Perhaps you see it as somewhat of a joke. The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines it as “compliance in or approval of what is done or proposed by another.”

Headlines blare new accusations of rape and assault almost daily, and suddenly consent has become an issue of controversy. Public debate has left most with little faith in not only the justice system, but justice itself; as awareness of a once undiscussed and very real issue grows, so does the number of people willing to deny its accountability. Often with no more proof than words, victims of rape and sexual violence are left without justice due to a system that preaches innocence until proven guilty.

But that’s all the outside world. The #MeToo movement was no more than a brief, politically-charged stunt, right? We can talk about it, but surely rape doesn’t really affect us at Westfield High School, right?

Consent. High school is a wonderful time to explore life. Make mistakes, try new things, gain confidence, and gain experience. We know ourselves. We can handle ourselves. We’ve been through sex ed. We know how it works. We know respect is important and no, we would never force someone to have sex, right?

Consent. Walking through the halls, you point out a kid you went to elementary school with to your friends. You mention how they used to hoard the monkey bars at recess. Your friend mentions that they forced them into fellatio on a date once. You are confused. Surely they don’t really mean forced, right?

Consent. Hanging out at the library, you notice two of your friends standing very close together. Your best friend has his hands around her waist. You don’t remember them having a thing. You notice him touching her legs and thighs. Her face is unchanging, smiling, but she makes eye contact with you and something isn’t right. Surely she would say something if he was making her uncomfortable, right?

Consent. Your best friend calls you, crying. You can’t understand a thing she’s saying. Eventually she calms down enough to tell you that her boyfriend raped her. You ask her when, she tells you, “three weeks ago.” You ask her why she hadn’t said anything. She tells you, “I didn’t realize until now.” There’s no way he could have raped her if they were dating. There’s no way she would have waited to say something, right?

Consent. Boys can’t be victims of sexual assault, right?

Consent. You’re at a friend’s house and it’s the second time you’ve ever been drunk. You’re not sure where your friends are, but your crush is in the room. You decide to take a nap in the bedroom upstairs. You wake up next to him. His friends tell you you begged him to have sex with you, laughing. You don’t remember having bruises on your wrists before. Confused, you laugh it off. Surely I meant what I said, right? Surely I would’ve said “no” if I didn’t want that, right?

Nobody is immune to statistics. Westfield High School is not immune to statistics. According to a report by the CDC in 2014, an estimated 19% of women and 2% of men will be raped in their lifetime, while 44% of women and 23% of men will experience some other form of sexual violence. While it is easy to pretend that these numbers will not touch our own lives, every story of sexual harassment, assault, and rape is someone else’s nightmare. The girl in your English class has to see the boy that did it to her every day during passing period. That guy that used to be on the track team laughs when you make a joke about being ‘triggered,’ but knows a panic attack could strike him with the mere mention of the locker rooms. Your peers have faced it, your friends have faced it, your teachers have faced it, maybe you’ve faced it. We see things, we hear stories, and we have instincts that tell us when something is wrong. And every story could one day be your own.

Consent. Because unless it’s a definitive, sober “yes,” it’s a no.

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