Zoe Saldana, Josh Hutcherson, and Other Celebs Just Made a Powerful Statement About Sexual Assault

September 1st 2015

The White House released a celebrity-studded video Tuesday titled "It's On Us: One Thing." The "one thing" referred to by the stars—including as Zoe Saldana, Matt McGorry, John Cho, the ladies of HAIM, and Josh Hutcherson—is consent. The video highlights the need to obtain willing consent prior to sexual relationships, because as Hutcherson states, without consent before sex, "it's rape."

This anti-rape public service video—part of President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden's "It's On Us" campaign—is perfectly timed, as college students head back to campus to start a new school year. (The White House also released a different PSA featuring celebrities such as Seth Meyers and Steve Carrell in April of 2014.)

According to two reports—a 2007 U.S. Department of Justice study, and a 2014 Washington Post-Kaiser Family Foundation survey— 1 in 5 college women have "suffered unwanted sexual incidents in college," as the Washington Post puts it. And it is not just young women, 7 percent of men reported to The Post that they too had been violated.

Over the last year, there has been a renewed spotlight on the prevalence of campus sexual assault incidents, and alleged cases such as former Columbia University student Emma Sulkowicz's have made national headlines.

In September 2014, President Obama and Vice President Biden launched "It's On Us" in an attempt to end sexual assault on college campuses. "'It’s On Us' recognizes that the solution to sexual assault begins with all of us," a White House release states. "It seeks to reframe the conversation surrounding sexual assault in a way that inspires everyone to see it as his or her responsibility to do something, big or small, to prevent it."

For several reasons, it is important to reframe the attitudes and discussion surrounding sexual assault as something everyone is responsible for preventing. Why? Because the conversation is flawed. Rape is often viewed as something perpetrated by a stranger. While the former scenario does occur, in reality victims are often acquainted with their attacker.

"According to a 2000 report funded by the National Institute of Justice, the vast majority of campus sexual assaults are committed by an acquaintance of the victim — in 90 percent of the reported cases, the victim knew her or his attacker," the American Association of University Women.

Also, quite often the onus of rape is often placed on the victim of sexual assault. "Victim blaming," as it is colloquially named, can take many forms: telling the victim that he or she was "asking for it" due to clothing choice, alcohol consumption, or behavior, telling students to watch their drinks at all times to avoid being drugged (rather than telling the would-be druggers to not put drugs in drinks). There are also a myriad of products women are told to purchase to avoid rape (whistles, mace, and roofie-detecting straws, nail polish, etc.), along with the self-defense courses offered to students to fend off attackers. (Sure, some of the aforementioned tactics could be added to the mix when talking about sexual assault prevention, but it shouldn't be the only thing taught to students.)

Changing of the conversation to one where we discuss consent is incredibly important, because it reminds us that there needs to be a more open conversation about safe sex. (And it is something that students at NYU are trying to do with the initiative #BetterSexTalk.) Hopefully asking for consent opens the door for partners—whether they are in a relationship or just having a one night stand—to discuss sexual encounters, taboos, likes and dislikes, discomforts, and desires.

Most importantly, of course, getting consent—the action of asking if your partner wants to be engaging in sex (oral, vaginal, anal, or otherwise), and hearing the word "yes"—is vital, because without it, the encounter is rape.

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