"No" Means No: Feminist and Victim Understandings of Sexual Assault

Abstract

This was a public talk given in the spring of 2013 during sexual assault awareness week. I believe roughly 800 attended. The philosophy dept was NOT expecting that but at any rate, this is the gist: While there are many different motivations for raising questions about the Sexual Assault Awareness Movement, at least one motivation comes from feminist controversies about what counts as consensual sex. Historically, this controversy arose between those known as "anti-pornography feminists", and "sex positive feminists" whose proponents had very different understandings of what counts as sexual autonomy for women. It is important to understand that questioning the current definitions of what counts as an instance of sexual assault does not entail an anti-feminist agenda. There is not a unified feminist front on this topic. To assume otherwise is to risk silencing victims of sexual assault even further by imposing a particular conception of sexual assault upon them that they might themselves reject. If we are to properly address sexual assault as feminists we must listen to victims of sexual assault and develop a theory of consent in tandem with victims' own understanding of that concept.

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