Only Yes Means Yes: Protecting Yourself from Sexual Assault

Sexual assault on school campuses has received a lot of attention in the press lately. That doesn't mean that the number of rapes is increasing, it means that awareness is increasing. While this may be disturbing to some, it's a good thing for the victims of assault who I refer to as survivors because that's what they did - SURVIVE.

Statistics on Rape in America:

Yes means yes, no means no, stop rape, stop sexual abuse, stop sexual assault
  • 1 in 6 women and 1 in 33 men are survivors of sexual assault
  • 83% are under the age of 25 
  • 68% of sexual assaults are never reported to police
  • 98% of of reported rapists will never spend a night in jail
  • 80% of survivors knew their attacker

Statistics come from the following studies:

  • Prevalence, Incidence, and Consequences of Violence Against Women, U.S. Department of Justice, 1998
  • Rape in America: A Report to the Nation, National Victim Center, 1992

In 2015 new laws were passed in several states that changes the legal standard of rape for campus assaults from the survivor proving that they said they didn't want the sexual advances ("no means no"), to proving that the accused obtained affirmative consent ("yes means yes"). These laws say that it's not enough that the survivor didn't say no or fight back, but rather they have to explicitly say yes. As one advocate puts it, "You wouldn't mow your neighbor's law without permission".  The previous "no means no" policy states that the survivor must actively say no to unwanted activity in order to prove rape or assault. The problem with the "no means no" standard is that sometimes survivors are drugged or drunk and can't object to sexual activity.  In addition and possibly more problematic is the fact survivors sometimes go into a "freeze" response to threat. That means that the nervous system becomes so activated by a threat to safety that it shuts down. This is sort of like being a deer in the headlights; it's an instinctive protective response that we inherited from our ancestors. 

Previous trauma survivors often go into this "freeze response" when confronted with rape. That means that they are physically unable to respond, even to say "no".  There are no statistics available about how many people that have been raped had been previously assaulted or traumatized in some way, but I can say from my therapy practice (I specialize in working with trauma survivors) that this is the case with the vast majority of survivors. People with a history of child abuse are often raped or assaulted later in life. This relates directly to the freeze response, as well as other factors I won't go into here (see blog on sexual abuse).

Last month Fox News reported that the Yes Means Yes policy is coming under fire as unconstitutional. I believe that "yes means yes" is an advance in understanding sexual assault and in protecting victims and even preventing assault. I believe that we need to educate our young people (especially in college) about this policy and that if we do we will see a decrease in the frequency of assault. I think it's more than unfortunate that there's push back on this progressive policy.

Effects of rape:

Victims of sexual assault are:

silence is not consent, only yes means yes
  • 3 times more likely to suffer from depression.
  • 6 times more likely to suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder.
  • 13 times more likely to abuse alcohol.
  • 26 times more likely to abuse drugs.
  • 4 times more likely to contemplate suicide.

Having been raped can actually prevent people from being able to protect themselves from being raped again in the future. Can we really afford to be casual in our handling of rape cases? Can we afford to ignore it's effects? I think my opinion is clear on this. What do you think? I will respond to any and all comments made in the box below.

Further Reading:

Yes means Yes: Visions of Female Sexual Power and a World Without Rape by J Friedman and J Valenti

Transforming a Rape Culture by E Buchwald and P Fletcher


Request a free phone consultation if you have been sexually assaulted: