Defining Consent

A recent rise in incidents of sexual assault at colleges and universities around the nation led to a challenge from President Barack Obama for institutions to focus on prevention and an increased awareness of these incidents. In response, UT’s Center for Health Education and Wellness launched a campaign focusing on communication and defining consent.

The campaign was geared toward two goals: first, to educate students about the definition of consent, and second, to open discussion and help students become accustomed
to talking about a topic that is awkward and uncomfortable for many.

“Communication is a key element of consent and sexual assault prevention,” said Ashley Blamey, director of the center and chair of the university’s Sexual Assault Response Team. “These are important conversations, and they may be happening for the first time in many students’ lives.”

For the consent campaign, the focus message was that consent is separate from any other context or behavior. A series of sixteen posters were produced with messages like “Indecision does not mean yes” and “Being a flirt does not mean yes.” Each poster included one of three key components of consent—“Consent is unmistakable,” “Consent
is mutual,” and “Consent is an enthusiastic ‘yes’”—along with the single tagline “If it’s not yes, it’s rape.” The posters featured bold text and simple layouts with neon colors.

“We wanted to make sure that the messages applied to everyone, and that they actively contradicted the victim-blaming that we often see in sexual assault cases,” said Blamey.

As students arrived for the start of the 2014–2015 school year, the posters were already up across campus. A print ad featured images of all sixteen posters, and electronic versions were displayed on digital screens.

During the 2015 spring semester, the campaign introduced a set of twenty-second video spots, featuring the “…does not mean yes” messages spoken by a diverse group of students. They were added to the university’s YouTube channel and communicated via social media throughout the month of April in conjunction with Sexual Assault Awareness Month.

Also in April, the center held a “Hike the Hill in Heels” event, during which men and women donned high heels and marched from the Torchbearer in Circle Park to Ayres Hall to raise awareness about sexual assault. Teams paid entry fees to walk in the march, and all money raised went to the Helen Ross McNabb Center Sexual Assault Center of
East Tennessee.

The initial campaign was well received, drawing praise as a model program at a sexual violence prevention conference and earning both a Special Judges Award and a silver ADDY award in the American Advertising Association’s East Tennessee competition. It also won a gold award from the Tennessee College Public Relations Association.

An expanded campaign is in the works for 2015–2016, with a series of new elements to encourage further discussion of consent and related issues along with a fresh set of…does not mean yes” messages drawn from student submissions.

“It’s our intent to keep moving students forward in their thinking on this issue. The first steps are always the most challenging, and now we have something solid to build on,”
said Blamey.

Find out more about university efforts to raise awareness of and help prevent sexual assaults on campus at wellness.utk.edu and sexualassault.utk.edu. Watch the
defining consent videos at tiny.utk.edu/consent.

4 Comments on “Defining Consent

  1. The focus on prevention of sexual assault was needed. But there is an elephant on the campus that was not mentioned and should have been. Your approach focused on communication and defining consent. But how many young adults who are drinking alcohol have the ability to make wise decisions and communicate clearly? Not many. The Campus Safety Magazine and Best Colleges website, among other sources I read, state that over 50% of rapes at colleges and universities involve alcohol. The posters shown on campus did not mention alcohol. Big mistake!

    • Mary- thank you for your thoughtful feedback! You have identified one of the critical elements of consent and one of the challenges in working with our population. The posters featured in the Torchbearer are a sample of the messages. We do have an alcohol message on some of the posters and even more recently we pulled out the alcohol message as a feature on our “T-shirt Tuesday” “red zone” campaign. http://wellness.utk.edu/the-red-zone/ In addition, we also address alcohol directly in bystander behavior training “Volunteers Speak UP!” , “Consent” & and “Know Your Policy” http://wellness.utk.edu/request-a-program/.
      You made a great call. We should have been clearer in our article- thank you again for the chance to highlight this area! Ashley Blamey

  2. The poster that seems to be missing, and the point that you seem to be driving home is that “Yes does not mean Yes.” “Yes, kiss me like that, Yes, I will go home with you, Yes, touch me there, Yes, take of my clothes”.. In your eyes, none of this means yes if the girl wakes up in the morning and says that she did not want it. Judging from your article, the boys on campus are absolute Neanderthals, unable to understand consent and the simple word “No”. Since these boys are only capable of using their brain to think about one thing, and do not seem to have a grasp of the human language, perhaps a campaign geared towards girls would be better.
    No is unmistakable, and No must be an enthusiastic “No’. Sexting does not mean No. 2;00 am does not mean No, Twerking does not mean No. Blurred Lines does not mean No.
    No is not just the word you use, but the way that you behave and carry yourself. No is about being responsible for yourself and your behavior, knowing your surroundings and not putting yourself in dangerous situations. You should know before you go out if the answer is yes or no. If it is no, or if there is any doubt, please do not drink so much that you can not remember what happened, do not leave your wing man, do not go back to the frat house, do not take off your clothes… I believe that women are strong and powerful and able to think and care for themselves. I believe they can be responsible for their behavior and decisions. The problem with this campaign is that it puts all of the responsibility, blame and consequences on the man, and does not teach women what they can do to gain power and control and enforce their “No”.

    • Merlene,

      Thank you for your interest and comments. Our goal as a community is to empower all students to be engaged in conversations and decision making about their own sexual decision making. Sexual violence is not acceptable. We feel strongly our community is capable and willing to change the statistics, if provided with information. The information in the campaign is not directed at any specific gender, but rather challenges common myths about consent.

      Please visit sexualassault.utk.edu for more information-

      Kind regards,

      Ashley