Donald Trump’s words reinforce the importance of affirmative consent

Donald Trump, Alicia Machado, Sex Tape
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I remember it was a sunny morning during my first semester at NYU. I’d picked out one of my favorite skirts, a long magenta one and a white top to wear, then put on my headphones to stroll to class.

Walking west on 10 th Street towards University Place, I walked without a care in the world, as was my right as an American citizen. At some point I felt something, or more specifically, someone behind me. It didn’t register at first that what was behind me was a man on a bicycle with his hand firmly planted on my rear end. Firmly planted. As I turned around in horror he sped away.

{mosads}I had simply gotten out of bed that morning, thinking as I had every day before that, that my body was my own. I hadn’t invited or asked for any person to touch me that morning. I certainly hadn’t consented to be touched in response to any request as I walked down the street. And that, ultimately, is at the heart of consent.

As equal citizens of the United States, women have autonomy over their persons no less than a man does. Most Americans accept this basic notion of equality among women and men. Specifically women are entitled to walk down a public street, travel on public forms of transportation, and to work in any industry. Our country’s approach to consent is grounded in its libertarian heritage that affords every citizen natural rights to one’s life and body; each state has enshrined those rights differently as it regards sexual assault.

According to RAINN – Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network – there are three primary considerations for consent. 

First, a person must freely give consent, which takes into account the power relationship between two individuals. While most often we think of this as physical power, we now know that economic power is also relevant, and decades of case law have now deemed economic coercion equally illegal.

Second, a person must have the capacity to give consent. Over the past 50 years it has become clear that people under the influence of alcohol or drugs, children, and those who are deemed mentally incompetent (among others) cannot consent – their “Yes” still means “No” to a sexual suitor.

Many Americans still believe that a person must resist, physically or verbally in order to be considered a trustworthy victim/survivor of sexual assault. “No means no” has so permeated our culture it’s become a punchline among millennials – t-shirts have mocked the concept, and Jameis Winston faced the taunt when he started his NFL career from opposing fans.

And yet this basic norm, this truism, is largely absent from Republican defenses of Donald Trump, perhaps because Trump himself is heard on tape not even bothering to pretend that consent matters: “…I just start kissing them. I don’t even wait…” This statement (and Billy Bush’s chortles) contributes to rape culture – a culture that objectifies women’s bodies and specifically disregards women’s rights and safety.

This statement perpetuates a climate of men and women saying “boys will be boys,” or judges deciding the threat of ruining a convicted sex offender like Brock Turner’s right to not have his life ruined outweighs the victim’s right to justice.

The third and final element of consent is newer, enshrined into law just recently by four states as a response to the trouble with rape culture and the insurmountable believability standards applied to those who file sexual assault and rape complaints. Affirmative consent – whether a person consented to sexual contact or behavior – has become the standard of proof in California, Illinois, New York and Connecticut.


Samantha Levra, one of my former students and an expert on campus sexual assault in particular, contends that “The case for affirmative consent is so necessary…it’s not hard to get affirmative consent and it’s not hard to stop if someone is not 100% on board.”

According to both California and New York’s laws, consent must be affirmative, conscious, voluntary and ongoing. What each of these standards share in common is that they are each woman or man’s choice to give; consent is in the eye of the beheld, not the beholder. 

You have to wonder why this still needs to be said in 2016. It still needs to be said because there are still men like Trump who pass on their rape culture to their sons – audio emerged this week of Donald Trump Jr. commenting that women’s mere presence in male spaces somehow limits male autonomy, and that women need to be prepared for the reactions men will have to their presence. The thing is, most men are not going out and assaulting or bragging about assaulting women. Most scholars in this area have concluded that 95 percent of the crimes are perpetrated by 5 percent of the perpetrators. By now there are at least 11 allegations of sexual assault or inappropriate sexual behaviors by presidential candidate Donald Trump. Remember – no one believed the first accusers of Bill Cosby either.

I haven’t thought about that day in 1987 since, well, 1987. I didn’t continue to wear that outfit, despite the fact that the skirt nearly reached my ankles. And intellectually, I knew that the guy on the bike was the problem, not me. He thought my consent was not mine to give; that he “didn’t even have to wait.”

The trouble 29 years later is that Donald Trump, his son and his “Christian first” vice president Mike Pence appear to agree with him.

Hancock is an associate professor of gender studies, political science and sociology at the University of Southern California and the founder of RISIST: The Research Institute for the Study of Intersectionality and Social Transformation. Follow her on Twitter @AngeMarieH


The views expressed by Contributors are their own and are not the views of The Hill.





Tags affirmative consent Alicia Machado Donald Trump Donald Trump Feminism Mike Pence Rape sex tape

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