Consent: Slutwalk Seattle

In the 19th century, state laws around the country defined rape as the carnal knowledge of a woman when achieved by force by a man other than her husband. According to a principle known as coverture, a husband had authority over his wife's person and property. Therefore, women could not withhold sex from their husbands. Similarly, enslaved women could not refuse sex with their masters or testify against them in court. After emancipation, the presumption that African American women had no say over what happened to their bodies persisted. For generations afterward, many men had impunity in raping black women.

Even white women had difficulty making the case that they had been raped. Evidence of physical injuries to prove resistance and corroborative testimony that a woman had cried out would improve her believability in court. But all-male juries and members of the judiciary often assumed that once a woman had consented to sex, any subsequent sexual activity was consensual. An unwanted sexual encounter could usually be classified as rape only if the woman was white and chaste, the perpetrator was black, and the act was violent.

Advocates for women's rights and racial justice started questioning these views in the mid-19th century, and their efforts helped reshape the meaning of rape in three important ways. First, legal remedies such as laws on criminal seduction and statutory rape made it easier to prosecute coercive but nonviolent sexual relations with acquaintances. African American activists insisted that black women could be victims of rape and that white men should be held accountable for assault. And feminists renamed a range of non-consensual acts, particularly with acquaintances and husbands, as rape.

In the late 20th century, second-wave feminism generated an anti-rape movement that identified sexual assault as an abuse of power that has been central to women's oppression. Feminists rejected the notion that only a violent stranger could rape a woman. In addition to coining the term "date rape" to describe unwanted sex with an acquaintance, they targeted sexual abuse within the family. Because of their efforts, in the 1980s states began to outlaw marital rape. Other reforms included revising rape statutes' requirements of corroboration and of the use of "utmost force" to prove resistance.

Feminists also exposed the extent of child sexual abuse within the home, schools and religious institutions. Rethinking rape as a form of power contributed to the recognition that boys and men could be victims and that rape is not solely a heterosexual crime. Only in 2011, however, did the FBI revise its definition of rape — for the first time since 1927. In Uniform Crime Reports, the FBI now includes any form of forced sexual penetration of a man or a woman as well as "non-forcible rape."

In recent years, as at every turn in our history, critics have chafed at the more expansive definitions of rape. As in the past, some may fear a loss of sexual privileges. Some skeptics have cast doubt on the extent and the damage of acquaintance rape. Others have tried to limit the meaning of rape to advance broader political agendas.


an active, non-coercive, continual agreement to engage in sexual activity. Consent is not silence, agreeing to sex after being pressured into it, or getting a “yes” from someone while their judgment is impaired by substance use – the only thing that counts as consent is an enthusiastic “yes.” Consent can be revoked at any time, by anybody, for any reason. Only human adults can give consent.

SlutWalk Seattle has compiled a manifesto of political and legal recommendations to guide citizens and their elected officials in fighting rape culture.
Reduce DNA evidence backlogs
An evidence backlog exists at a crime lab when the lab receives more requests to analyze evidence than it can process. Even though crime lab capacity has increased dramatically over the past few years, backlogs continue to exist because the growth in the number of requests to analyze evidence exceeds crime lab capacity.

Eliminate untested sexual assault kits
Sexual assault kits (SAKs), often colloquially referred to as “rape kits,” sit untested in hospitals, clinics, rape crisis centers and police evidence storage all across the country. The reasons for this include lack of funding, inadequate evidence-tracking systems used by law enforcement, and a failure to prioritize funding for cases of sexual assault.
The Washington State Legislature should require all hospitals, clinics, rape crisis centers and police stations to audit the extent of their untested SAKs, and make the results of such audits public.

Ensure every victim receives treatment from a certified medical forensic examiner
Sexual assault is unique as a crime because evidence often isn’t collected by a law enforcement officer. Instead, evidence is generally collected by the nurse or other health care professional who initially treats the victim after the assault. It is critical that such individuals are adequately trained to collect forensic evidence; without such training, the evidence collected is of a lower quality and more rapists walk free.

Ensure every victim receives a high-quality, compassionate response from law enforcement
Sadly, many law enforcement officers and detectives who work crimes of sexual assault aren’t adequately trained to handle such crimes. This reality was clearly demonstrated by the results from a recent study funded by the Department of Justice on the Los Angeles police and sheriff’s departments’ response to crimes of sexual assault.

The Washington State Legislature can take the following steps to prevent such occurrences among law enforcement in our state:

~~Commission the WSIPP to research the extent of such problems in state and local law enforcement and recommend areas for improvement.
~~Mandate that all law enforcement officers, detectives, and district attorneys who work crimes of sexual violence must undergo the sexual assault investigation and prosecution training outlined in RCW 43.101.270.
~~Direct the appropriate state agency to periodically issue a list of “best practices” recommendations to local law enforcement units regarding sexual assault, incorporating the latest research on effective criminal justice system response.
~~Direct the appropriate state agency to issue binding guidelines to law enforcement detailing how to fairly treat members of minority and other disenfranchised communities,and require all law enforcement officers, regardless of their unit, to undergo cultural sensitivity training to prevent unfair treatment.
~~Mandate that all law enforcement departments in the state develop a manual specific to investigating sex crimes that codifies the policies and expectations of detectives working such crimes.
~~Pass a law that requires the district attorney handling a sexual assault case to provide detailed reasons to the victim when a charge is rejected.

Policy Positions of SlutWalk Seattle


Please Join event: No more victim-blaming. No more slut-shaming. SlutWalk Seattle is part of an international protest movement fighting rape culture. The date of SlutWalk Seattle 2012 has changed to September 9th, 2012, from 12 to 4. Visit for more info.