We all know that sexual harassment is a pervasive problem in our society today. The factors that contribute to its prevalence can differ from community to community, but the first and most important step to combat sexual harassment and violence is education. Unfortunately, children and young adults are often not being given the information they need in order to keep themselves safe and exercise their bodily autonomy.
The initial question we need to talk about is, “What is Consent?” According to RAINN (Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network,) consent can be defined as “an agreement between participants to engage in sexual activity.” Some essential characteristics of consent are:
- Clearly and freely communicated
- CANNOT be given by someone who is underage, intoxicated or incapacitated, asleep, or unconscious.
- Can be revoked at ANY point.
Now that we’ve established what consent is, why should we be talking about it? Many South Asian parents don’t believe that sex should be talked about, much less discuss it with their children. Tania Chatterjee, founder of South Asian Sexual Health Alliance, was interviewed for NBC news in 2017: “There was no sit down or anything… it’s just kind of a common theme, that there’s an appropriate time for sex, and that’s only after marriage,” she says. This is part of the reason why Chatterjee started the South Asian Sexual Health Alliance: to open up the conversation surrounding sexual health in South Asian communities. Because of these stigmatized and shame-filled attitudes towards “the sex talk,” many South Asians grow up unaware of what counts as a violation of consent or what counts as sexual harassment. This has real implications on people’s bodily autonomy after marriage, particularly for women. In a study of South Asian women in the United States, 42% reported having faced physical and/or sexual violence from an intimate partner. This study, as well as similar data sets, can be found on the Asian Pacific Institute on Gender Based Violence website. These alarmingly high numbers go to show the need for extensive education and conversation around these topics in the South Asian community.
The National Sexual Violence Resource Center has a great resource for parents looking to talk with their children about sexual assault and consent, especially before their kids go off to college. The two page tip sheet has information about what a healthy relationship looks like, how to talk to your kids about consent, and how drugs & alcohol can factor into the risks for sexual assault (noting, however, that sexual assault is NEVER the victim’s fault regardless of how much they’d had to drink, whether they were doing drugs, or any other factor.)
Although South Asian communities have a long way to go when it comes to de-stigmatizing conversations about sexual health and consent, our generation has the power to be the change. By sharing resources, starting discussions, and empowering one another to break the cycles of shame, we are the future of our own communities. Consent matters, our voices matter, and we will be heard.