April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month which is a fact you might not have known because, well, who likes to talk about sexual assault?
While ideas like “victim-blaming” or “rape culture” are not light topics to discuss, our aversion towards conversations around these subjects has contributed to the confusion clouding consent.
A 2015 survey by Planned Parenthood cites that 37% of people indicate that getting a condom is a clear sign of consent. 35% believe merely taking off clothes means “yes.” Only 14% of those people learned about consent in school. While women, according to the survey, are more likely to have clearer ideas around the issue, these crimes commonly continue to make headlines.
We have a long way to go.
MARC USA, an ad agency in Chicago, is making an effort to clear up this gray area. The intersection between an advertising agency and rape culture, while not immediately obvious, is actually quite useful in a campaign that wants to help educate.
“We kept feeling helpless. What can we do? We’re not equipped to counsel people, how are we going to make a change? And the thing that we’re really equipped to do is awareness, that’s what we do for a living,” says Stephanie Franke, creative director of KnowNo, the aptly named campaign to promote awareness around consent.
After the outrage following the letter from a Stanford rape victim and the case of Brock Turner last year, Franke and Snake Roth, co-founder, were “fired up.” They wanted to “shake people out of their stupor.”
And what better way to do so than by placing eight mattresses outside in the busy streets of Chicago? Dancers were hired to lay across each mattress, red solo cups strewn about nearby, with a sign reading “If I can’t say no, I can’t say yes.” “Know No”—a simple yet clever play-on-word pairing that places consent “right in front of them in the middle of the day, in the middle of the street.”
The experiential stunt was live for an entire workday and the response was overwhelming: “There were people that came up hugging me, a dad saying he had a daughter who just started college and he was going to go home and call her that night,” Roth describes. Others promised they’d sit down with their sons and go through the KnowNo quiz on the website together.
And that exact result, being able to talk about it, is the simplest and most effective form of progress we can make. It’s also something that KnowNo has successfully helped to repeat on other college campuses.
The KnowNo site features a simple quiz with the prompt “Do you know ‘No’?” Each answer has the multiple choice option of “Yes,” “No,” and “Sometimes”—a brilliant third option for those still fuzzy about the idea. Because “there never is a sometimes,” as Franke explains. “I think putting that in there is helpful because in that moment, for the people that might be teetering or questioning that there might be an exception—sometimes is conditional.”
Consent is “to knowingly give explicit permission or agreement to sexual activity.” A seemingly straightforward concept, our society continues to perpetuate misconceptions in the media and in the courtrooms. Just last year, Oklahoma law ruled that oral sex is not rape if the victim is unconscious from drinking. Fox News continues to defend sexual abusers such as Bill O’Reilly and only just cut ties with him after extreme media pressure. Indeed, the sitting President of the United States has done the same, not to mention the assault accusations of his own.
None of these very public instances aid in the idea that we are a country that believes, much less supports survivors of sexual abuse. When there is little thought or space given to the voice of a victim, it is no wonder that “more than 50 percent of the victims of even the most serious incidents (e.g., forced penetration) say they do not report the event because they do not consider it ‘serious enough,’”(AAU Campus Climate Survey on Sexual Assault and Sexual Misconduct).
Many of the campuses in which incidents of sexual assault were highest did not even have a department to which students could come and utilize for counsel and support. The same AAU Campus Climate Survey reports that “about a quarter of the students generally believe they are knowledgeable about the resources available related to sexual assault and misconduct.” ONLY a quarter. Throw that fraction into the 1 in 4 women who will be sexually assaulted in college and this leaves you with little more than 6% of students who know what to do or how to handle a situation when they find themselves or friends sexually assaulted.
Because that’s just it—it is not a matter of “if” this happens. It is when. And it is everywhere.
During the first day with the KnowNo campaign, Roth says multiple people approached her saying “You’re the only person I’ve told but this also happened to me.”
By literally placing the subject in broad daylight, KnowNo forced the conversations that we need to be having. They champion survivors in their accompanying video as each person stands up on the mattress, arms spread wide in solidarity—they are brave and they are not alone.
There are a lot of ways to react angrily to news surrounding these cases. We can press the angry emoji reaction on a Facebook status. We can vent all we want to friends. But KnowNo is actively dismantling rape culture in a more positive way—by educating. By speaking out.
Franke emphasizes that “the hope is that people will take this, understand it more, share it with their kids, talk to their kids more definitively about these seemingly gray circumstances and make it really clear to them.”
April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month. Now you know. Go talk about it and keep the conversation going.