Rethinking consent and communication: One student’s story echoes larger national themes

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By: Jordan Erb and Taylor Munson

When Jillian Kelley’s Tinder date came over to her apartment on Oct. 4, she was expecting to watch a movie and get to know him. They had planned to go downtown, but because she had homework, she invited him over for what she thought would be a short movie date. Within twenty minutes–and without asking for permission–he was on top of her, biting her breasts and kissing her, forcing her hands down his pants, fingering and choking her.

“I was not prepared for that, at all,” Kelley said. “(He did it) without asking if it was OK. It was so sudden, and I was almost in shock. I didn’t take off my clothes. Usually these things are a team effort. One person takes off one article of clothing, and the other person takes off another article of clothing. So I’m like, ‘my bra is off. So are my pants.’ I’m flipping out.”

Kelley’s experience may be indicative of today’s dating culture—a scene marked with dating apps, first-night hookups, miscommunications and assault. Large-scale conversations surrounding dating violence and sexual harassment are fairly new to the public sphere, according to Kim Camacho, Boise State’s violence prevention and support coordinator in the Gender Equity Center, and a lot of that has to do with the spread of movements such as #MeToo and Time’s Up. A recently publicized incident involving actor Aziz Ansari has also sparked more widespread conversations about consent and dating violence.

“That’s a conversation we have not traditionally had, and it’s highlighting an experience a lot of women have,” Camacho said. “Part of it is that it’s so normalized in our culture. Many wonder if that’s just a part of dating, but when boundaries are not respected, that is a form of sexual violence.”

Before Kelley’s Tinder date allegedly sexually assaulted her, he was nothing more than a boy behind a Tinder profile, a seemingly nice kid with a short and simple bio. It wasn’t until they met for a date that things changed. Kelley, a freshman global studies major, had never used Tinder before. Encouraged by her friends to get an account, she didn’t expect her first date to turn violent.

“I didn’t even register it as sexual assault for a little while,” Kelley said. “I just kind of sat there like, ‘Wow, I’m in pain.’ All of a sudden I realize I’m shaking and I can’t breathe and my boobs hurt.”

Kelley was concerned enough to file a police report that night, which has been verified by The Arbiter and is consistent with the account described here. The Boise Police filed no charges, though they did visit the alleged attacker’s home to discuss his behavior. A week later, Kelley filed for action with the university’s Title IX office. According to Kelley, after four months, university administration ruled that the man will have to complete 50 hours of community service, sessions with a domestic violence counseling professional and a reflective essay.

Kelley’s story shows that even those involved in incidents of dating violence aren’t sure what passes for acceptable behavior, or if it’s worth alerting authorities.

According to Adriane Bang, director of the Gender Equity Center, victims of sexual assault may use different forms of communication to convey discomfort, without explicitly saying “no.” Pulling their clothes down if someone is trying to remove them, turning, pulling, or rolling away from the person, trying to initiate different activities to distract the person, or saying they have something else to do are each inadvertent “no’s.”

Kelley said she tried sending many of these signals, each of which was ignored.

“Throughout this whole thing, I did try to kind of lowkey hint that I didn’t want to do this,” Kelley said. “I’d turn away, and I’d start playing the movie again or say, ‘hey, I need to do homework,’ and stop kissing him.”

When the other person rejects or ignores those signals, according to Bang, it sends a message that the person doesn’t care about the boundaries being displayed. Camacho, of the Gender Equity Center, corroborates this idea.

“Women, particularly, are socialized to be polite,” Camacho said. “We tend to give a ‘no’ in more of a nonverbal or indirect way. Those are ways that we express our discomfort because of the way we’ve been socialized. So, how can we make that shift to where those are understood to be ‘no’s’ and in healthy and consensual experiences those boundaries are respected by their partner?”

According to Camacho, any situation involving the potential progression in physical intimacy boils down to consent, which should be shared by both individuals as verbal, apparent and enthusiastic communication, a ‘yes,’ and it’s continual throughout the activity.

“The absence of a ‘no’ doesn’t always mean consent is present and it can be taken back at any time and throughout any activity,” Camacho said.

Camacho also said there can be a lot of guilt and shame that comes with experiencing dating violence, or any other sexual violence. However, she encouraged anyone who is questioning whether or not to seek help to do so, even if they are unsure whether or not they experienced sexual violence.

Though unfamiliar with Kelley’s case, Roberto Refinetti, professor and head of the department of psychological science, said some cases of sexual assault may be caused by serious miscommunication. In some situations, according to Refinetti, moving too quickly through a sexual relationship can lead to discomfort with communicating, if not an entire disregard for communication. Bypassing these critical stages of communication may lead to disagreements about sexual preferences.

“When you have hookups where you don’t even know the person, of course you’re changing the dynamics,” Refinetti said. “If you knew the person and you had talked a little bit, you would have some feeling of how that person will feel about it. Then (when) you have a physical contact, you already have some verification. When you’re just jumping in, it could be anything.”

This is particularly common in today’s ever-present “hookup” dating scene. Refinetti said many students may feel uncomfortable communicating about their sexual relationships, especially with the speed at which they progress.

“Because they are getting physically close faster, there are more chances for disagreements, because they didn’t have a chance to talk about some basic things,” Refinetti said.

Beyond hookups, atypical forms of sexuality may add a new level of miscommunication to the mix, according to Refinetti. Sexual interests that fall outside of societal “norms” may pose opportunities for disagreements between new partners. More dominant sexual personalities may reach a serious disagreement if met with someone who doesn’t share the same interests.

“Sex is supposed to be a part of a loving interaction,” Refinetti said. “You don’t expect to have a strong disagreement.”

When addressing the path forward surrounding these conversations about dating violence and preventing situations such as these, Camacho finds the narrative tends to focus on “risk reduction,” or learning ways to minimize one’s own subjectivity to potentially dangerous situations.

Although she finds risk reduction to be important, Camacho also believes a larger emphasis should also be put on “primary prevention.”

“Prevention happens on a spectrum,” Camacho said. “The work that (the Gender Equity Center) does focuses primarily on this idea of primary prevention. We’re addressing social norms and behaviors in order to make that cultural shift. By making those shifts, we’re reducing the likelihood that violence is going to happen, or sexual harassment is going to happen.”

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2 Comments

  1. Jillian Kelley on

    This article is just the tip of the iceberg of sexual assault on campus. I am very blessed to have been given the opportunity to share my story. Thank you Taylor and Jordan for gibing me the chance to be brave and help others struggling with similar issues. I hope that this article will empower victims who go to our wonderful University. Thank you to the Gender Equity center and the Idaho Coalition for their continued support. There is so much more to my story, so if anyone has questions please reach out to me. I hear you, and I am with you.

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