Making and enjoying a cup of tea isn't a complicated task. Neither is asking someone for his or her consent before sex. A YouTube video called "Tea and Consent" has set out to make that very point. It's gone viral in the United Kingdom, logging more than 1.2 million views so far. Animated by Blue Seat Studios, the video was inspired by a blog post from Emmeline May of the blog Rockstar Dinosaur Pirate Princess. "If you can understand how completely ludicrous it is to force people to have tea when they don’t want tea, and you are able to understand when people don’t want tea, then how hard is it to understand when it comes to sex?" May wrote in the post, which was turned into the script for the video. "Whether it’s tea or sex, Consent Is Everything." May explained to Refinery29 that she thought of the analogy during a conversation with a friend about an argument they'd heard that sex isn't rape if the victim has had sexual relations with the perpetrator before. "I commented [to my friend], 'My friend Alice made me a cup of tea when I was around [her house] last Saturday. That doesn't mean she can come round to mine anytime she likes and force tea down my throat, going 'Well, you wanted it last week!''" May told Refinery29. Now, the Thames Valley Police is using the video as a PSA. It's part of the department's #ConsentIsEverything campaign, which launched at the end of October. "For too long, there have been myths around the subject of consent, particularly that it is a 'gray' area. Confusion around consent has been the result of historical distortions," Christina Diamandopoulos, co-director of the U.K.'s Rape Crisis group in Wycombe, Chiltern, and South Buckinghamshire, said in a statement. "In reality, it has never been a 'gray' area, and this campaign, which we are proud to be part of, makes that clear."
While it might seem like an oversimplification to compare sexual assault with offering someone a cup of tea, the video makes an important point — the lines defining what constitutes sexual assault are clearer than many people might think. "I think the reason we see sexual consent as more complicated is partly because we have a big hangup about sex which is really confusing to people," May told Refinery29. "There's lots of conflicting messages about sex and how it's both desirable to be having loads of it but how you should only be having it with one person, or within in a relationship. As a teenage girl I got loads of messages about how I was meant to want and enjoy sex but say no to it; that boys all wanted sex and I should resist. It's very confusing, and not that healthy. Using 'tea' was a way to remove those layers of social expectations about sex and highlight how absurd is it that we can understand 'consent' in one context, but not another."
The video's message has particular resonance in the U.K. A bulletin from the country's Ministry of Justice, Home Office, and the Office for National Statistics found that roughly 1 in 5 women age 16 to 59 in England and Wales reported being victim to some form of sexual offense. And for female students, the rate is even higher — a survey from The Telegraph found that 1 in 3 female undergraduate students in the U.K. experience sexual assault or abuse. The video begins by explaining a scenario most people would easily classify as affirmative consent — a stick figure saying it "would love a cup of tea." But in other animated situations, the stick figures being offered the tea change their minds, or they're unsure whether or not they want the tea after all. The narrator in the animated video takes a hard stance against equating unconsciousness with consent. "If they're unconscious, don't make them tea. Unconscious people don't want tea, and they can't answer the question, 'Do you want tea?' Because they're unconscious," the voice-over says. The video also notes that someone consenting to drinking tea once doesn't mean that person will want more tea later on, whether that's in a few weeks or the next morning.
Using "tea" was a way to remove those layers of social expectations about sex and highlight how absurd is it that we can understand "consent" in one context, but not another.
Sexual consent doesn't have to be a confusing topic. Thinking about consent the same way you'd think about accepting a cup of tea may seem simple, but it demonstrates the straightforward fact that consent should always be freely given before engaging in sexual activity. This story was updated to include a comment from May. It was originally published on December 2. OPENER IMAGE: Michelle Drewes.