Many of the female survivors I’ve worked with said that having sex with their husbands felt like rape. They would be shocked when I told them that their experiences had, in fact, been rape
By Hera Hussain
[T]hanks to the #MeToo movement the topic of consent is now on the agenda. The conversation is centred on dating and hooking up, teaching us how to navigate those confusing moments between going home and actively saying, or hearing, the word “yes”. What isn’t being expressed is that consent is something that happens every time we agree to sleep with someone – whether on a first date, or after 30 years of marriage. At every point in a relationship someone has the right to say no, and to be listened to.
It’s frightening for many to think that partners we trust, love and may even desire might force us into something they’re enjoying, when we’re not, but it happens in too many relationships.
Many of the female survivors I’ve worked with have expressed, quite reluctantly, that having sex with their husbands felt like rape. They would be shocked when I told them that their experiences had, in fact, been rape. And these women aren’t an anomaly. One study reported that nearly one in three women has experienced sexual violence within an intimate relationship.
I can never forget when one woman I worked with asked me, embarrassed, how sex was for another married woman. She asked me if it was supposed to feel good. Or the woman who would go to extreme lengths to avoid sleeping with her husband, pretending to be sick or on her period. And another who would lock the door and sleep in the guest room when her husband would come staggering home from a night out. There are so many more stories like these.
As seen in the recent high-profile cases, women continue to face a higher standard of scrutiny for experiencing abuse than abusers do for inflicting it. “If it was so bad, why didn’t she just leave?” people ask me. There are many reasons why women don’t leave an abusive situation.
Psychological barriers can prevent recognition of abuse, women are socialised to fear the anger of men who don’t get their way, and, for many women, leaving simply isn’t an option as there’s nowhere to go. After all, in England alone, nearly 200 women and children are turned away from domestic violence refuges every single day.
Clearly, we’re going wrong somewhere. Men are socialised to feel ownership over women’s bodies, regardless of their pain or happiness. Women are conditioned to accept degrees of male aggression, and will often temper their response knowing that they risk being seriously hurt or even killed if they fail to comply.
If we’re serious about changing gender power dynamics for good, we need to take the NSPCC’s advice and teach children about consent from a young age. This begins with making PSHE education, including lessons on consent, taught by trained teachers, statutory in all schools.
Consent can’t begin and end with dates. Consent can’t be the absence of a “no”. It can’t be an extra. It can’t be a one-off check. Consent has to be affirmative and enthusiastic every single time, from the first time to the last time.
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