Photo: courtesy #thisdoesntmeanyes.
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#thisdoesntmeanyes: how a new campaign is tackling the myth of consent, once and for all

An overheard conversation in a bar prompted four friends to start their own anti-rape campaign. Now, they're asking women everywhere to join in and declare that their clothing doesn't mean consent.

As press releases go, the one for #thisdoesntmeanyes starts strong. “There’s a myth that surrounds women, a myth that embroils them: women who dress or behave suggestively, women who are playful or act provocatively, women who flirt or openly discuss sex – they’re asking for it.”

Anti-rape campaigners have been chanting “yes means yes” (and “no means no”) for decades, yet – as any feminist who spends much time online will be all too aware – there are plenty of other things that somehow still  frequently get mistranslated as “yes” – including, say, miniskirts, alcohol, or being in a public place after dark.

#thisdoesntmeanyes leaves no room for ambiguity. By collecting photographs of women in their own clothing, its four founders - Nathalie Gordon, Lydia Pang, Abigail Bergstrom and Karlie McCulloch -  hope to end the myth once and for all.

The campaign began because of an overheard conversation in a bar: two men turned to each other and commented that a passing stranger was “asking for it”. The women happened to be in the company of a friend who had been raped, and the suggestion that clothing could imply consent made her deeply unhappy.

Three out of the four women behind #thisdoesntmeanyes know someone who had also been the victim of rape, and the men’s comments made them realise it was time to act. With their backgrounds in art, illustration and editing, they decided to start their own campaign, and reached out to Rape Crisis London, who were on board immediately. “They just saw the whole thing as exactly what women needed”.

On April 11, the group took to the streets armed with a pop-up studio and the world-renowned photographer PEROU. Almost all of the women they stopped had a story to tell: not surprising, given that 1 in 5 women will experience sexual assault since the age of 16. “Sometimes it was enough just to say ‘we’re doing a project for Rape Crisis London’, and they’d say ‘what do I need to sign?’”. After being photographed, many of them asked if there was more they could do – one girl even e-mailed the team afterwards, offering to volunteer her time unpaid to help the campaign.

With other campaigns putting the onus on victims to prevent themselves from being assaulted, #thisdoesntmeanyes was a welcome chance to fight back. (When I ask the women about their campaign, one of the first things they bring up is the recent poster from Sussex Police. “It was everything we are trying to work against”.)

For those inclined to sneer at hashtag politics, it’s a potent reminder of the internet’s ability to forge progressive communities. Looking through the different photographs, what is most striking is the diversity of the participants. Hollie, who appears in the campaign [see photo above], is a lesbian, and after she was photographed stayed to talk. “We had always been very clear that this campaign was for all women including the lesbian, bisexual and transgender communities, and her stories re-iterated that it isn’t just straight women who are victims”.

The women are encouraging others to post their photos using the hashtag, and will be adding  online contributions to the website. For demographics often sidelined in discussions of sexual violence, including women of colour and trans individuals, #thisdoesntmeanyes provides a forum in which they can represent themselves on equal footing.  “It’s a conversation we desperately need to have with men and women of all ages, sexes, races, sexualities.” The range of women who have already joined the campaign makes for a powerful statement.

As the organisers themselves put it, “long may the message continue”.

 

See the campaign in full at thisdoesntmeanyes.com, and add your own image using #thisdoesntmeanyes

Rape Crisis South London is open 12-2.30 and 19-21.30. Their telephone number is 0808 802 9999, or you can get help online at rasasc.org.uk

Stephanie Boland is digital assistant at the New Statesman. She tweets at @stephanieboland

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The biggest divide in politics is not left against right, but liberals against authoritarians

My week, including a Lib Dem membership rise, The Avalanches, and why I'm putting pressure on Theresa May over child refugees.

It is a boost for us that Nick Clegg has agreed to return to the front line and be our Brexit spokesperson. I hadn’t even had a chance at our meeting to make him the offer when he said: “Before we start, I’ve been thinking about this and want to take on the fight over Europe.”

With Labour apparently willing to give the Tories a free pass to take us out of Europe, the Liberal Democrats are the only UK-wide party that will go into the next election campaigning to maintain our membership of the EU. The stage is remarkably clear for us to remind Theresa May precisely what she would be risking if we abandon free trade, free movement, environmental protection, workers’ rights and cross-border security co-operation. More than a month on from the referendum, all we have heard from the Tories is that “Brexit means Brexit” – but they have given us no clue that they understand what that means.

 

Premature obituaries

Not long ago, the received wisdom was that all political parties were dying – but lately the supposed corpses have twitched into life. True, many who have joined Labour’s ranks are so hard left that they don’t see winning elections as a primary (or even a desirable) purpose of a party, and opening up Labour to those with a very different agenda could ultimately destroy it.

Our experience has been happier: 20,000 people joined the Liberal Democrat fightback in the wake of the 2015 general election result, and 17,000 more have joined since the referendum. We now have more members than at any time this century.

 

Breaking up is hard to do

Journalists have been asking repeatedly if I want to see the break-up of the Labour Party, with moderates defecting to the Liberal Democrats. I have been clear that I am not a home-wrecker and it is for Labour to determine its own future, just as I focus on advancing the Liberal Democrat cause. Yet I have also been clear that I am happy for my party to be a home for liberals of whatever hue. I enjoyed campaigning in the referendum with a variety of progressive figures, just as moderates from different parties shared platforms in 1975. It struck me that far more unites us than divides us.

That said, not all “moderate” Labour figures could be described as “liberal”, as John Reid demonstrated as Labour home secretary. The modern political divide is less left v right than authoritarian v liberal. Both left and right are looking increasingly authoritarian and outright nasty, with fewer voices prepared to stand up for liberal values.

 

What I did on my holidays

Time off has been virtually non-existent, but I am reading A Wilderness of Mirrors by Mark Meynell (about loss of trust in politics, the media and just about everything). I’m also obsessively listening to Wildflower by the Avalanches, their second album, 16 years after their first. It’s outstanding – almost 60 minutes of intelligently crafted dialogue, samples and epic production.

During the political maelstrom, I have been thinking back to the idyllic few days I spent over half-term on the Scottish island of Colonsay: swimming in the sea with the kids (very cold but strangely exhilarating ­after a decent jog), running and walking. An added bonus is that Colonsay is the smallest island in the world to have its own brewery. I can now heartily recommend it.

 

Preparing for the next fight

The odds are weirdly long on an early general election, but I refuse to be complacent – and not merely because the bookies were so wrong about Brexit. If we have learned one truth about Theresa May as Prime Minister so far, it is that she is utterly ruthless. After her savage cabinet sackings, this is, in effect, a new government. She has refused to go to the country, even though she lectured Gordon Brown on the need to gain the endorsement of the electorate when he replaced Tony Blair. Perhaps she doesn’t care much about legitimacy, but she cares about power.

You can be sure that she will be keeping half an eye on Labour’s leadership election. With Jeremy Corbyn potentially reconfirmed as leader in September against the wishes of three-quarters of his MPs, Mrs May might conclude that she will never have a better chance to increase her narrow majority. Throw in the possibility that the economy worsens next year as Brexit starts to bite, and I rule nothing out.

So, we are already selecting candidates. It is vital that they dig in early. As we are the only party prepared to make the positive case for Europe, such an election would present us with an amazing opportunity.

 

Sitting Priti

David Cameron pledged to take an unspecified number of unaccompanied children from camps across the Continent. I am putting pressure on Theresa May to turn that vague commitment into a proper plan. Having visited such camps, I have been fighting for Britain to give sanctuary to a minimum of 3,000 unaccompanied children, who are currently open to the worst kinds of exploitation. We have heard nothing but silence from the government, with underfunded councils reporting that they are not receiving the help they need from Whitehall.

Meanwhile, it remains government policy to send refugees to Turkey – whose increasingly authoritarian government has just suspended human rights protection.

As if all of this were not grim enough, we have a new Secretary of State for International Development, Priti Patel, who has said that she thinks aid should be used largely to promote trade. As someone who wants our country to be respected around the world, I find this plain embarrassing. Actually, it’s worse. It’s shaming. As with Europe, so with the world: the ­Conservative government is hauling up the drawbridge just when we need more than ever to engage with people beyond our shores.

Tim Farron is the leader of the Liberal Democrats. To join the party, visit: libdems.org.uk/join

Tim Farron is leader of the Liberal Democrats.

This article first appeared in the 28 July 2016 issue of the New Statesman, Summer Double Issue