WASHINGTON – “Don’t Rape” is the new anthem for college activists in the millennial generation.
This is what Vanessa Grigoriadis, a National Magazine Award winner and contributor at Vanity Fair and The New York Times, discusses in her debut novel, Blurred Lines: Rethinking Sex, Power, and Consent on Campus.
“Most Americans think of rape as a physically violent penetration, but college students are changing the arc of that narrative,” Grigoriadis said at a Politics and Prose event to discuss her novel Saturday evening.
Starting in 2014, Grigoriadis went undercover as a college student on both small and large campuses to report student’s experience with sexual assault. She also met with school administrators, parents of accused sexual assaulters and college activists. Her investigation lasted for three years.
As a Gen X baby herself, Grigoriadis was interested to find just how focused college students are about changing the narrative about consensual sex and holding abusers accountable for their actions.
“There’s a difference between illegal and unethical,” said one student Grigoriadis interviewed in her novel.
Grigoriadis found that students are reestablishing what consensual sex should consist of more than ever before. The mantra of this movement is the ‘yes means yes’ policy.
‘Yes means yes’ is a movement that states that silence is not consent. Students began redefining the old ‘no means no’ slogan in an attempt to shift the way people view consent and sexual assault.
In situations such as the Stanford rape case, where former student, Brock Turner, was found violating an unconscious woman, the ‘yes means yes’ policy defines his actions as sexual assault and rape. The victim could not give verbal consent, thus Turner’s actions are seen as nonconsensual and unlawful, according to the policy.
The policy was not always popular. According to one mother of an accused sexual assaulter in Grigoriadis’ book, boys have the short end of the stick.
“For our American boys today, it’s guilty before innocent,” said the mother. “It’s twisted, what ever happened to a fair trial?”
Many agree with the mother, including conservative radio host, Rush Limbaugh.
“ No’ means ‘yes’ if you know how to spot it” said Limbaugh, mocking the ‘yes means yes’ policy on his radio show during the height of the controversy in 2014. “When a girl says “NO,” she actually means NO […] that’s just crazy talk.”
According to Grigoriadis, this mindset is exactly what college students are trying to dismantle.
Despite controversy, ‘yes means yes’ soon became law in states such as California in an attempt to lower the high rates of sexual assault on campus.
“Whether a sexual act is consensual or not has to do with what you think consent really is,” said Grigoriadis.
Today, up to 77 percent of students say you need a verbal ‘yes’ for sex to be consensual, according to Grigoriadis’ findings.
“This is an incredible change in mindset,” said Grigoriadis. “Students are focused on thoughtful and compassionate sex that leaves you fueled, rather than the shameful sex other generations are more accustomed with.”
Grigoriadis also studied students at Columbia University heavily. The school was under major scrutiny for how they handled sexual assault at the time and Grigoriadis met with the infamous ‘Mattress Girl’ activist from Columbia University who carried a mattress around campus until her attacker received punished.
“I thought it was a great idea,” said Grigoriadis. “She was so determined to make a change in the way schools handled sexual assault, I think she even wound up carrying the mattress across the stage at graduation.”
Columbia isn’t the only university that received scrutiny. Many schools face criticism over their Title IX policies, that deal with sex and sexual assault cases on campus.
According to the official Title IX website, if schools do not respond and remedy hostile educational environment situations, they could risk losing their federal funding. This includes sex discrimination and sexual assault cases.
Universities will often find a way around taking the necessary measures regarding Title IX cases, according to Grigoriadis.
“Colleges often push students towards informal means of dealing with their assaults because they don’t want to deal with it, or deal with bad press,” said Grigoriadis. “And sadly students will take it because it is the least traumatic experience for them.”
Increasing amounts of colleges are implementing new segments regarding safe, consensual sex to their policies in an attempt to limit sexual misconduct.
Columbus Community College’s student handbook recently added a section about indicators and examples of sexual assault. The handbook also defines consent, coercion, force, sexual assault and sexual harassment.
Grigoriadis and many of the students she interviewed in her novel believe this is a step in the right direction.
“College students view college sexual assault as severely as other generations treat assault in the workplace,” said Grigoriadis. “A new sexual revolution is sweeping the nation, and it begins with ‘it’s never her fault.’”