Have you heard about Consent Awareness Week?
(Content warning: sex and gender-based violence)
I’m Irum, and during Consent Awareness Week (CAW) from September 19th to 23rd, I will be sharing OUSA’s visual glossary of a few popular terms that are coming up a lot in our advocacy around sex and gender-based violence (SGBV) on campus. These are imperfect and approachable definitions bridging together dictionary entries, SGBV scholarship and resources, and the modern history of SGBV activism.
We hope this glossary, along with the many other events and initiatives that are taking place across the country over the next week, will strengthen Possibility Seeds’ call to officially recognize Consent Awareness Week during the third week of September every single year. That is to say, we hope our governments will take up seriously the task of cultivating consent culture on our campuses, in our communities, and across our country.
consent / consentement
Our glossary begins with consent. (It seemed like an obvious choice.)
Adopting the historical approach, I come across a report citing judicial hearings in the United States that established “informed consent” legally in the context of patient autonomy. I think about how we’re bringing it up for Consent Awareness Week in response to SGBV on campus. And I’m also drafting “consent forms” for our next big event to make sure it’s OK to take photos of the students attending OUSA’s Fall General Assembly.
The thing is, we negotiate consent all the time, at varying levels, and with different consequences, as we come across one another and make decisions about our bodies and our lives. Access to consent – the right you and I have to say yes, or no – can be seen as integral to our sense of autonomy and self-determination, and, in no light terms, to our humanity.
In the context of CAW, it is important to note that any type of sexual activity without consent is sexualized violence. Consent is meant to be voluntarily given by all parties, as well as informed, ongoing, enthusiastic, withdrawn at any time, specific, and required before each interaction – sexual or otherwise.
cyberviolence / cyberviolence
Violence online is still violence.
Cyberviolence, also known as technology-assisted violence or technology-facilitated violence, includes a range of behaviours that use technology to facilitate harm, online or in-person. This includes threats, harassment, bullying, embarrassment, assault, extortion, coercion, torment, or social exclusion of another person through technology.
As cyberviolence continues to become more commonplace in Canada, women and girls are disproportionately affected including through sexual violence, digitally facilitated through sexual exploitation or luring, non-consensual sharing of images, revenge porn, and sextortion (sexual blackmail).
retraumatization / retraumatisation
Trauma is an open wound: stop rubbing salt in it.
Some things – like places, people, sounds, or even scents – can trigger a strong emotional, physical, or psychological response in us that has less to do with what’s happening now, and more to do with a past traumatic event. This difficult re-experience of a previous traumatic event is considered retraumatization and can include a range of symptoms such as flashbacks, nightmares, sleeping issues, anxiety, withdrawal from school/social settings, intense emotions, and more.
This is why a trauma-informed approach in responses to sexual and gender-based violence is critical to safeguard and protect survivors throughout the complaints process. A trauma-informed approach acknowledges potential triggers for a survivor and works to mitigate and avoid harm.
revenge porn / porno-vengeance
I’m having sex in a video online but I don’t know about it. That’s assault.
Revenge porn includes posting sexually explicit images without someone’s consent, especially as a form of revenge or harassment. It was determined a criminal offence under the Criminal Code in 2015 and is continuing to gain popularity, with reports indicating the rate of non-consensual distribution of images rose 10% between 2019 to 2020, and 8% between 2020 to 2021.
stealthing / le furtivage (or le stealthing)
Took off the condom without telling them? Yes, that’s sexual assault.
Stealthing was popularized in mainstream discourse in 2017 when Alexandra Brodsky's article in the Columbia Journal of Gender and Law called the practice "rape-adjacent,” but the practice goes back much further and the term was initially used in online communities by perpetrators.
The conditions that established consent for sex included wearing the condom; secretly removing it during sex is non-consensual, and thus violence.
victim-blaming / blâmer la victime
“Are you sure? Well, just how many drinks did you have?”
When your automatic reaction to sex or gender-based violence is interrogating the victim or survivor so you can figure out just where they went wrong – rather than holding the literal perpetrator accountable – that’s victim blaming.
The term was actually coined by Dr. William Ryan in 1971 in his book “Blaming the Victim,” in which Ryan argued that perpetrators of anti-Blackness relied on victim-blaming to justify their racism (and thus maintain their power) during the civil rights movement. Since then, the term has been used by sex and gender-based violence activists to describe the internalized logics of misogyny that inform sexual assault investigations and reinforce a rape culture that both protects our most powerful perpetrators and harms our most vulnerable survivors.
Unsure what these and other SGBV terms mean? Beyond the terms and initiatives we’re posting here, you can check out Courage to Act’s Knowledge Centre, a national repository of tools and toolkits to address gender-based violence at post-secondary institutions in Canada created by a national network of student leaders, survivors, frontline workers, legal experts, union leaders, and post-secondary educators, staff and administrators.