Jennifer Lawrence begins her Vanity Fair interview with a declaration of fear: "I was just so afraid. I didn’t know how this would affect my career." She's speaking, of course, of the terrible violation of privacy she and many other female celebrities suffered last month when their nude photos were leaked. The 24-year old actress gave a powerful interview in the October issue of the magazine, but perhaps the most telling statements are her ones about fear and about choice: "It’s my body, and it should be my choice, and the fact that it is not my choice is absolutely disgusting." Her comments speak to a larger conversation about consent that has been especially prevalent as of late.
Recently, California governor Jerry Brown passed groundbreaking legislation that changes the "no means no" policy on college campuses to "yes means yes," when assessing sexual assault. It's a radical change that seeks to remove what some believe is the ambiguity of consent; the law "means that silence or lack of resistance is not a form of consent." Hopefully, the new legislation will significantly reduce the victim-blaming that is inherent to the "she didn't say no" argument. Lawrence, too, as well as the other victims of the hacking, were berated and devalued for taking nude photos in the first place, as if that was somehow a silent consent to people abusing and exploiting the photos in whatever way they pleased.
But to anyone that has been a victim of sexual assault, the concept of "consent" is ALL but ambiguous, and yet the victims are made to question what their responsibility in the abuse was because of a perpetual, demeaning rape culture. I respect Lawrence so much for refusing to apologize for the existence of the photos, because it's a sentiment that rings so true but is often not expressed because of an inherent fear. If I speak up or declare that I was abused, will I be blamed and questioned? The atmosphere of victim blaming has forced celebrities like Miley Cyrus and Vanessa Hudgens in the past to feel ashamed and apologize for their so-called lewdness, but I don't think their apologies were made of weakness; we live in a culture that protects assaulters by continuing to uphold the notion that consent is an amorphous concept.
And yes, it's a small relief that consent in being reevaluated, especially with a specific scrutinizing eye on college campuses, but the criticism is not enough: Campuses and institutions continue to shield assaulters from punishment, like Columbia, where student Emma Sulkowicz is STILL carrying around her mattress as a protest against the school board for refusing to penalize her rapist. Innovations like the roofie-detecting nailpolish and the Good2Go app are a certain kind of progress, I will concede; however, it's disheartening that even these steps forward place responsbility on the victim to protect themselves.
Consent is not ambiguous. No one is asking for it. Lawrence responded in the best way possible, and she's right: We should all be afforded the basic human right of being autonomous of our bodies, and not be exploited or shamed for what is the fault of rape culture.