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Saturday, May 28, 2022

UF students and faculty are taking action against sexual assault on campus by clarifying one word: consent.

UF’s Sexual Trauma/Interpersonal Violence Education, in collaboration with GatorWell, launched a sexual consent health communication campaign Monday, said Rita Lawrence, an interpersonal violence prevention coordinator.

“We’ve learned that students still have a hard time understanding what is consent,” she said. “So we really wanted to give some guidance about what works when it comes to consent.”

A survey by the Association of American Universities, released in 2015, found the number of sexual assaults at UF matched the national level, which is considered an epidemic, she said.

After months of talking to students to understand the campus climate about sexual assault and what they think consent is, the organizations looked to find a way to best reach students, Lawrence said.

They found students understood consent better after seeing colorful, vibrant comic strips that described ways it can and can’t be given. She said while it can be nonverbal, verbal consent is the best way to know both people agree.

And consent to one activity doesn’t necessarily equal consent to everything, Lawrence added.

A 2014 report by GatorWell asked groups of UF students about their thoughts on sexual violence, consent and resources on campus. They found students believed there’s an expectation to opt out of having sex instead of opting in.

“Indeed the expectation was for women in particular to assertively let their ‘no’ be known,” the report stated. “If women do not clearly and firmly say no, then any sexual activity is considered to be consensual.”

Lawrence said the campaign is looking to change that perception.

“The clearer you are, the better, and we just believe that talking about it can add to that clarity,” she said. “It could be as easy as ‘Is this OK?’” or a head nod, she added.

The comic strips, which the organization uses to spearhead the campaign, also depicts same-sex and even interracial couples. Lawrence said STRIVE will also table at events, where students can get free T-shirts, bags and condom kits that promote the movement.

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Students can also request presentations explaining consent in their classes, Lawrence said.

Tuong-Vi Le, 23, a peer educator with STRIVE, said the comic strips showing diverse couples received positive feedback from students.

“It shows that they take it seriously and they do want to see the type of diversity they see in life,” the UF health education graduate student said. “We want to represent different populations in the community.”

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