Column published on October 14th, 2014 in Sin Embargo

“Vaca muerta”, or “dead cow” is an awful expression that is used in Colombia. It refers, in slang terms or even sometimes playful terms, to the violations many women are subjected to while they lie unconscious during parties throughout Bogota. When these events occur, it’s assumed that it was the woman’s fault for not taking care of herself or for getting too drunk. As a result of this re-victimisation, police reports of this kind of abuse are almost non-existent.

Men in our culture are taught to believe that it is absolutely fine to stare or leer at women in the streets because we are in public spaces. Women, they imply, are there to be looked at. As if showing skin were some kind of permission to objectify us. Many crimes of sexual violence against women remain unpunished as the criminal, policeman and judge don’t think it’s strange to assume that the woman did say yes in one way or another. Be it “with her clothes”, the “way she was flirting” or even in the way she said “no”.

“It is not a scandal, it is a sexual crime”. This is a statement from Jennifer Lawrence in the latest edition of Vanity Fair when referring to the nude photos of her that were stolen and “leaked” on to the Internet. Lawrence goes on to say “I did not give permission for anyone to look at my naked body”. That is what this is all about. In saying this, a detail that tends to be ignored is brought into the centre of the debate, even though it should always be at the centre of any discussion that has anything to do with power and sex: consent.

As a journalist for The Guardian, Jessica Valenti, mentioned, a few years ago the reaction to similar scandals was completely different.When the same thing happened to Disney star, Vanessa Hudgens, in 2007, the TV host of the channel said that she had made an “error of judgement” and hoped she had “learnt a valuable lesson”. Lawrence, however, tells Vanity Fair that she had no intention of apologising, and declares that she has been the victim of a sexual crime. She adds that every time a person looks at the photos without her consent they are helping to maximise that crime.

In the western “macho” or male chauvinistic culture,  men are not taught to ask for consent, neither are the women taught to give it. In fact, there is still a popular belief that when women say “no” we are “playing hard to get” which just means try harder, find a means of “seducing”. As women we are taught that admitting to what we want, both in bed and at work, is simply wrong. It’s very rare for lovers to seek and ask for signs of explicit consent and the origin of so many sexual crimes comes from assuming that by closing the bedroom door one signs a contract where anything is allowed. It is a culture that permits and facilitates rape.

It’s become so ingrained in our society and in pop culture that there are thousands of rapes that go unnoticed and are normalized. Let’s start with the James Bond films, where the girls tend to say “No James, No” just as the lights start to dim. Or to not go so far back, in the last season of Game of Thrones (in the televised version which is different from the books) Jaime Lannister (Spoiler Alert!) begins to touch his twin sister Cersei in the same room as the corpse of their son. Now, by Game Of Thrones’ standards this isn’t much of a scandal, but it so happens that Cersei says “No”. And Jaime rapes her. No more, no less. She says “No” and he forces himself on her. He rapes her. James Bond style. The biggest abuse that infiltrates all sexual practises is when there is not consent from both parties. The problem is that too frequently, in anything that has to do with sex, a woman’s consent is something that falls to the background. This is because sexual crimes have very little to do with sex itself, it is all about power. The power one person has over another person’s body. “This body is mine, therefore I don’t have to ask what I can or can’t do with it”.

Not asking for consent is violent. This is a message that has to infiltrate our sexual and romantic practices of everyday life. To avoid and reduce sexual crimes, our society needs education that understands that love and/or good sex start with a yes.

Nothing is sexier than consent.