Once again, men's efforts to combat sexual assault on college campuses have turned into a strange fashion colonization effort. First, this summer, there was the rape nail polish introduced by male undergraduates at North Carolina State University; now some students at DePaul University in Chicago are in hot water over a crop of oddly worded anti-rape T-shirts.
The shirts sport the logo "Consent the D" — with "D" apparently referring to DePaul, not, er, something else. They represent the latest example of a well-intentioned but deeply unhelpful approach to raising awareness about sexual assault. Unsurprisingly, the shirts have divided students, with some denouncing the shirts as tasteless and offensive.
Consent the D is a self-described "nonprofit, pro-consent movement started by a DePaul University student, to raise awareness about sexual violence, generate funds for a nonprofit fighting sexual violence and make a statement during this critical time." According to the school's student paper, the nonprofit will donate half of the T-shirt proceeds to Chicago's Rape Victims Advocates.
In a CBS interview, Consent the D's founder, senior Randy Vollrath, described the movement as an "empowering alternative to a culture of lack of consent," and said the goal is "to create a culture of consent where consent is put as an absolute requirement for all interactions."
On the surface, this campaign seems like a positive development in light of the nation's campus sexual assault epidemic — the embodiment of Yes Means Yes, proactive consent policies sweeping across college campuses. But this is not the case, as several students have already articulated.
"I am appalled that these men are profiting from the activist work women have been doing around sexual assault on campus for years," one woman posted to Consent the D's Facebook page. Another wrote, "There's a difference between telling women to consent and asking them to. 'Consent the D' is not asking men to ask for sex and respect the women's choice, it sounds like you're just telling women to consent in a pretty aggressive way: Consent the dick... Also not a very tasteful way to bring awareness to an issue that has traumatized so many women."
Still another voiced concern over the campaign's unwillingness to listen to sexual assault victims:
"A lot of the responses to those who are disagreeing with these shirts are that people are being 'stupid/too sensitive' and 'should just appreciate that someone is trying.' But here's the thing: You're wearing a T-shirt that says you stand with survivors of sexual assault, but when activists and actual survivors speak out and say they are offended by this campaign, you tell them to pipe down, effectively invalidating their experiences/trauma. So it's like you're trying to show the world that you care about sexual assault, but when it comes to actually supporting victims... well, you're not."
This commenter's point becomes all the more imperative in light of recent accusations lobbied against DePaul of covering up sexual assaults, silencing victims and perpetuating rape culture. This past April, student activists organized a group called DePaul Exposed and protested the administration's lack of response to campus rape. Survivors, it seems, aren't being heard or taken seriously at DePaul.
Sure, Consent the D means well. But if a group of male students who are advocating for sexual violence reform — and partnering with fraternities, which are statistically known for high incidence of rape — they would do well to listen to survivors and not dismiss criticism. The success of affirmative consent depends on it.
If you or someone you know has been affected by sexual violence, it's not your fault. You are not alone. Help is available 24/7 through the National Sexual Assault Hotline: 800-656-HOPE and online.rainn.org.