Students Respond to TCSA’s “Consent is Sexy” Campaign

Co-written by Alice Froude and Pat Reddick

One out of two women and one out of five men in Canada will be sexually assaulted over the course of their lifetime, according to the Kawartha Sexual Assault Centre (KSAC).To create awareness of sexual assault the Trent Central Student Association (TCSA) launched the “Safe, Sexy, and Consensual” campaign last September, known to most by its main slogan “Consent is Sexy.”

In their 2012/2013 Campaigns Guide the TCSA lists the objectives of the campaign as follows:

– To create a campus community that is sex-positive, safe, and sexual assault free
– To help students understand safer sex and risk negotiation
– To help students understand options available to them in the case of sexual assault
– To create an atmosphere where all stakeholders place blame on the perpetrators (as opposed to the survivors) of sexual assault

The majority of the campaign took place during Introductory Seminar Week (ISW), where posters, wristbands and coasters were distributed around campus and the city. Although the campaign is still prevalent, promotion has generally been confined to the first week of classes.

Considering the importance of the topic at hand, creating awareness is imperative. “Consent is Sexy” is a campaign that advocates this view. However, some students are concerned with the campaign’s inconsistent presence.

An international student commented, “During my first few weeks in Canada, at TIP Camp (an introductory weekend for new international students), and during ISW, the ‘Consent is Sexy’ campaign was extremely visible and well promoted. However, after the first week of university, campaign promotion died down. It was only on coaster in a pub or on somebody’s wrist with the ‘Consent is Sexy’ wristband. I think that the purpose of the campaign is great, but it needs to be more prevalent throughout the year – not just in the first week. Sexual assault hasn’t gone away and so neither should the visibility of the campaign.”

Students who arrived at Trent this term have not really seen any active campaign promotion. Two new international students remarked, “We haven’t really heard much about the campaign because we weren’t at TIP Camp.”

Despite these comments some students believe that the campaign’s success during ISW and its shocking slogan now serve as a constant reminder of the harrowing sexual assault rates in Canada.
One student tells Arthur, “I like the posters because they’re shocking to an extent, which is kind of what a campaign like this one needs.”

This attitude seems consistent with the TCSA’s, although no one from the organization was available for comment. In the 2012/2013 Campaigns Guide they report that “sexual assaults [are] ignored or brushed off as a part of university sex culture and [there is] a lack of awareness around safe, consensual sexual engagement.”

In Canada only six out of every 100 sexual assaults and only one-to-two percent of “date rape” sexual assaults are reported to the police, according to KSAC statistics. Dating culture at university is at its peak, so campaigns that create awareness such as this are even more crucial.

“Consent is Sexy” promotes through the distribution of rubber bracelets and coasters to constantly remind students to be cautious when experimenting in the dating-world. Unlike the ISW programming, disseminating the message of “Consent is Sexy” through bracelets and coasters is on going.

A third-year student involved with ISW programming said, “I think the campaign was extremely successful and beneficial… The bracelets were great because they were a way to get people talking about the issue in a way that was comfortable and approachable.”

However, some disagree with the use of bracelets and coasters to create awareness about such an important and sensitive topic. International student Ryan Barnett comments, “The very use of [the bracelets] as a fashion symbol both negates the meaning of the campaign and discourages others from engaging with it.”

Other students take issue with the provocative slogan itself. “It implies that consent is still a choice whereas it should be made really clear that it’s obligatory. I just think that the “Consent is Sexy” slogan doesn’t make it as clear as it could and should be and also risks turning it into a joke,” says a first-year student.

What is more, Barnett tells Arthur “the campaign seems too male orientated and bypasses the possibility of female involvement or same sex sexual assault. The [poster with the title] “Doesn’t mean she wants to fuck” is a perfect example of this problem.”

Awareness should be directed at both men and women, as KSAC report that, although less common than female sexual assault, one in five men will be sexually abused at some time in their life.
It is clear that the message “Consent is Sexy” creates awareness of is very important, especially in university culture. It will be interesting to see how the campaign develops and expands over the next few years.