Be an advocate for positive, healthy, consenting relationships.
While the subject mostly says it all, here are some things you can do if you want to increase the number of healthy happy consenting relationships both in your personal life and in those of people around you:
- Be an advocate for positivity and communication. This means maintaining dialogue between you and your partner(s), you and your friends, your students, your family, your peers. I’m not saying you’ve got to get all of the dirty details - but have regular check-ins with the people in your life. Sometimes a simple “hey, how is everything going with X?” is enough to get the conversation going. “Are you happy?” is a direct, meaningful question that deserves to be asked.
- Be a listener. If someone comes to you for conversation or looking for advice, or if you’ve opened up that door for communication and someone is taking you up on it, be a listener. That means not questioning the victim, dismissing their allegations, or telling them to “Just get out” of a bad relationship. They don’t need that. They need someone to listen. Afterwards, positive affirmation goes a long way. Say, “thank you for confiding in me — it was very brave and strong of you.” That leads to the next point:
- If you are not a professional and do not have the tools or qualifications to assist someone, or if you think they need to be on contact with an authority figure help them to get the resources they need. If someone hasn’t explicitly said they are in a nonconsensual or unhealthy relationship but you think they may be in a bad place, it is totally okay to remind them of hotlines, counselors and clinics, or any other number of resources available to victims of emotional or sexual abuse. Let them know you are there for them at any time. Be there for them at any time.
- Inform yourself on how to identify if someone you know may be the victim of an unhealthy or abusive relationship, and what you can/should do to help. I’ve had people confide in me that mutual friends and/or colleagues were engaging in inappropriate relationships. I had no idea what to do with that information - the alleged abuser was someone who I thought I knew, trusted. That was a time when I most wished I had previously informed myself on how to handle the situation so I knew how to help the victims and approach mutual friends/colleagues about the allegations against someone from our community.
I have been in unhealthy and controlling relationships - and the longer they go on, the more distanced you are from the network of friends and family who are there to help you. You kind of just get swallowed whole by the relationship and the pressure of maintaining outward appearances doesn’t allow for you to feel compelled to reach out for help. I disappeared from my friends and classmates, stopped going to social events, and it wasn’t until after I had removed myself from the relationship (which took quite literally months) that people noticed and asked me what had happened. But before then all I wanted was someone to talk to - not a professional, or counselor - I wanted a friend to call up and ask how things were going. In the end it was one of my instructors who began asking in confidentiality about my life, and was the first one to question if I thought the relationship was emotionally abusive. I’ll forever be grateful to that person because they helped me get my life back, and it only took a single question, “are you okay?”
This post is in response to the ongoing dialogue about a few YouTuber’s lack of obtaining consent, but is ultimately part of a much bigger conversation about relationships in general.