Part 2 of a two-part series on consent at the United States Merchant Marine Academy
In recognition of Sexual Assault Awareness Month, #SAAM, The Safe Center held a presentation for 700 midshipmen in the main dining hall at the United States Merchant Marine Academy (USMMA) in Kings Point, where approximately 15 percent of the students are female and 85 percent are male. The sought-after national speaker was Michael J. Domitrz, president and founder of the Date Safe Project and author of Can I Kiss You?: A Thought Provoking Look at Relationships, Intimacy and Sexual Assault.
Early on in the presentation, a small group of students began jeering and laughing. Domitrz gently challenged them: “These are your brothers and sisters in the room. Some of them are survivors of assault. Don’t disrespect them. Be accountable for your behavior. What message are you sending by laughing?”
He encouraged the students to engage in the topic of dating in an honest and respectful manner.
“Take this subject seriously,” he urged. “Be careful with the language you use. Language matters. If you need to be drunk to have sex, then the fact is, you are bad at sex. A sexually mature person doesn’t need alcohol to perform.”
Domitrz called out the hypocrisy of denigrating peers based on their gender and dating behavior.
He asked the crowd, “Why is it OK to call a flirty girl who drinks the most terrible names, but we condone the same exact behavior in a guy?”
He stressed the importance of affirming human dignity, regardless of gender. He called out hypocrisy in our culture, where we say one thing and do another. If we are going to support victims of sexual assault, then we have to be willing to intervene and we have to be willing to listen.
He advised, “Tell a friend, ‘I will listen, I will be there for you. What can I do to help?’”
He also said that it is important to respect the boundaries of the victim. Make it clear that you are available, if needed. He stressed the availability of resources for victims on the USMMA campus, as well as crisis centers such as The Safe Center. Young people must know that help is available when needed. Again and again, Domitrz encouraged honest conversation to achieve sexual intimacy.
Next, he moved on to the main topic of the presentation: the need to obtain consent before any sexual contact with another person.
Domitrz explained that it is normal to avoid the issue of consent, because it is awkward to broach the subject during a romantic encounter. There is a fear of rejection. There is a fear of ruining the moment. However, it is important for both parties to participate in the decision to have a sexual encounter.
It should not be up to the recipient of a kiss to put a stop to it. That is self defense. Instead, the recipient of a kiss should have the choice to go ahead or to decline. So you need to first ask, “Would you mind if I kissed you?” The recipient will probably be flattered. If she says, “No” to the kiss, then the initiator should respect the answer. If the romantic encounter proceeds, it is important to get affirmative consent at each stage.
Domitrz suggested asking: “What would you love me to do next?” This gives a measure of control and choice to the other party. She can either say “No” or give an answer indicating her desires. The goal for dating relationships is to achieve mutual sexual intimacy based on mutual respect. This is a goal that goes way beyond mere consent. It makes both partners actively part of the dynamic and prevents or at least greatly reduces the incidence of forced or pressured encounters. It also improves the quality of dating relationships, well into adulthood and marriage.
Help Is Available for Victims of Sexual Assault
The #MeToo movement has made it easier for victims to share their experiences and is promoting the importance of listening by supporters and bystanders.
The USMMA has significantly expanded the resources available for its midshipmen. Nassau County has other resources to help victims who are traumatized by the experience of rape and sexual assault. The Safe Center maintains a free and confidential 24/7 support hotline for victims of rape and sexual assault in Nassau County at 516-542-0404. Hotline counselors have special training in domestic/dating abuse, rape and sexual assault, and crisis intervention. They provide emergency support to victims, help them with safety needs and planning, and provide information about options and how to use them.
Once a call is placed to the 911 hotline or a victim is brought to the hospital by the police, an advocate is dispatched to the hospital to meet with the victim, a trained nurse and the assigned detective. Since DNA from the assailant only lasts for 96 hours, and because there are certain medical interventions that can be taken to stop/treat pregnancy, sexually transmitted disease and AIDS, it is absolutely imperative for the victim to go to a hospital for examination and necessary treatment.
Counseling services are also provided to the victims and their families, who are considered “secondary survivors.” The Safe Center provides all counseling services absolutely free of charge, partly funded by the Office of Victim Services. The earlier mental health counseling is sought, the better. It can make a tremendous difference in the life of the victim and her family.
Victims are often beset by feelings of shame and anxiety, especially in cases where the perpetrator is a family member or acquaintance. Very few sexual assaults are committed by strangers. The vast majority of rapes are committed by intimate partners, in date-rape situations or by authority figures.
Learn more about The Safe Center services, how to volunteer or support the organization at www.tscli.org.
If you missed Part 1, read it here.
Jacqueline Harounian is a regular contributor to the Great Neck Record and a resident of Kings Point. She currently serves as a rape-crisis counselor and volunteer for The Safe Center, a nonprofit victims’ services organization in Bethpage. In 2017, she authored a three-part series in the Great Neck Record regarding the response of legislators and the USMMA after reports surfaced concerning the sexual assault of female midshipmen on the Kings Point campus the previous year.