No Means No is the most widespread date rape-prevention slogan, but I have a problem with it. Not that its message isn't important. If a girl*says No to sex (or any sort of sexual activity), guys should take that seriously. And girls shouldn't be afraid to speak up and say No.
However, speaking up isn't always easy. No Means No puts the pressure on the girl to put an end to a sexual situation. And what's worse, No Means No makes Yes the default. Like being innocent til proven guilty. If a girl doesn't explicitly say No, then by default, she means Yes.
Which isn't right. And isn't true. What if the girl is drunk? Or intimidated by the guy? What if she's passed out? She certainly can't say No then.
Absolutely, girls should do their best not to get into sketchy or uncomfortable situations. But sometimes even the most self-assured girls end up over their heads. Take it from me, and from all my female friends – every single one of us has a story like that. Some of our stories ended okay. Some didn't.
It would be easier if date rapists wore neon blinking RAPIST!!! buttons, but they don't. In reality, you don't always know who the rapists are. And while some are obviously scary or skeezy, a whole lot more seem like regular guys. Or are regular guys. Guys you know -- products of pressure from the media, their friends, and other contributors to rape culture.
Part of what confuses people are the scores of alleged "gray areas". For example, if a girl is asleep, and a guy has sex with her, is that rape? Most people would say yes (and yes, it is rape). But what if they're dating? What if she's drunk? What if she's drunk, and flirty, and dressed sexy, and goes upstairs with a guy she's dating, and makes out with him? Does all that add up to consent?
Absolutely not. There is no such thing as "asking for it" – that's known as victim-blaming, and it's one of the main reasons so many rapes go unreported. Passing out is not a Yes. Being drunk is not a Yes. Dating a guy is not a Yes. Neither is wearing a sexy outfit, or flirting, or going somewhere private with a guy, or hooking up in any other way.
Nothing means Yes to sex except for the word "Yes".
That's why Yes Means Yes** is a much better slogan.
Yes Means Yes makes No the default. Unless a girl says Yes, she is saying No to sex or sexual activity. Period. I mean, girls don't go to school or the grocery store implying Yes to sex! And that default doesn't change when the bedroom door closes. Not until both partners are ready.
Girls should not forget this.
And even more importantly, guys should not forget this.
- 1 out of every 6 American women has been the victim of sexual assault (a number which might be higher, due to underreporting).
- Approximately a third or less (and possibly, far less) of rapes are reported to law enforcement officials.
- More than half of rapes are committed by guys the victim knows.
Contemporary YA novels that deal with date rape/sexual assault:
The Mockingbirds by Daisy Whitney
Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson
Just Listen by Sarah Dessen
Inexcusable by Chris Lynch (from the perspective of the date rapist)
Leftovers by Laura Wiess
National Center for Victims of Crime
Phone: (800) 394-2255
Internet Address: http://www.ncvc.org
Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network
Phone: (800) 656-4673 (656-HOPE)
Internet Address: http://www.rainn.org
Men Can Stop Rape
Phone: (202) 265-6530
Internet Address: http://www.mencanstoprape.org
*Nine out of 10 victims of rape are girls, but guys are also victims. A 1999 U.S. Study estimates only 10% of male rapes are reported.
**My first encounter with this slogan was this Metafilter comment by kmz, in a fantastically thought-provoking thread about the topic.