© Amnesty International

Let’s Talk About Yes: the activists promoting sexual consent

Sex without consent is rape. It’s that straightforward – there are no “grey” areas.

The #LetsTalkAboutYes campaign builds on years of work and activism against sexual violence in different countries and pushes for consent-based legislation and a consent culture. As part of the campaign, Amnesty International activists and staff put together a toolkit (also available as a blog series). It’s for anyone who wants to start conversations about sexual consent.

More and more countries in Europe are changing their legal definition of rape to one based on consent – but there’s still a long way to go. Activists all around Europe have been using the toolkit to help with their campaigning on the issue. Here, they tell us why it’s so important.

UK (Duaa Abdulal, Cara Brodie, Niamh O’Connell, Eve Grice)

The work of activists in the UK on sexual consent
The work of activists in the UK on sexual consent

Let’s talk about yes! This is still quite a taboo subject, but people across Europe are campaigning for consent-based laws and some of those people are students, just like us.

During the pandemic in 2020, the Amnesty Student Action Network (STAN) shared information on social media that debunks any misconceptions and stereotypes surrounding sexual consent. The toolkit has provided the basis for this campaign and has led student groups across the UK to host online art workshops, nights of action, consent workshops and film nights.

This year that work continues. We are pushing for changes in universities regarding how they handle conversations around consent and the experiences of students – the negative ones in particular. We are currently working on collecting data to create individual reports for universities.

So why are we doing this? Research has found that cases of sexual assault have doubled at universities in the UK since 2015 and many students who have experienced this have reported feeling as though they cannot turn to their university for assistance. While university is a place for people to become more independent, universities themselves have a responsibility to promote consent culture and provide support to survivors. Let’s start talking about yes and let’s make sure that our universities do too!

POLAND (Sandra Grzelaszyk)

Image by Sandra Grzelaszyk, an activist working on sexual consent in Poland.
Image by Sandra Grzelaszyk, an activist working on sexual consent in Poland.

Everyone should feel safe and comfortable at every level of intimacy. I really want to be part of the change from rape culture to consent culture.

I often share posts on social media. I like to express my opinion on the issues involved, such as attempts to change the definition of rape in Poland or provide educational content related to informed consent. I hope that because of this, my friends can see a different point of view and reflect on what consent means.

I’m also an artist. I use photography and graphics to emphasize that we need consent. I try to show it in a more approachable way because I really want other people to understand why it’s so important.

As an activist with Amnesty International, I have opportunities to share things about consent culture – like the campaign Tak to Miłość (‘Yes is Love’). The campaign’s goal is to change the law in Poland to ensure that rape is defined as sex without consent. We can create open discussions about consent – like we did last year, while collecting petition signatures, or by organising an event about the myths around sexual violence, like when people wrongly think what a person wears can be justification for rape.

For me, the most important part of the Activist Toolkit is the definition of consent and how to debunk myths and stereotypes about sexual violence. These have been so useful in the discussions I’ve had so far.

GERMANY (Judith Treiber)

Laura Helmerr image
Laura Helmerr image

While German laws regarding rape acknowledge that “no means no”, we are still far away from a consent culture. So as a group of volunteers in Amnesty Germany, we felt it was important to have discussions with young Amnesty members about consent. We felt the first place to start changing this was within our own organisation by creating awareness of what consent truly means and why it is so important.

For this purpose we ran several virtual workshops about the ‘Let’s Talk About Yes’ campaign. We used many ideas from the activist toolkit; participants created and shared memes in small groups, which we shared on our Instagram page @amnestywomen with the hashtag #letstalkaboutyes. The workshops and the Instagram activities all took place during the 16 days of activism around the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women on 25th November. We used every opportunity to share the petition regarding new laws in Denmark.

We got a lot of very positive feedback for this, especially from young women. Through the workshops we connected with several members of our Section who now actively participate in our coordination group.


Amnesty activists in the Netherlands working on sexual consent.
Amnesty activists in the Netherlands working on sexual consent.

In the Netherlands, the main goal of the ‘Let’s Talk About Yes’ campaign was to get a new law accepted that says sex without consent is rape. Together with other organisers, we provided activist leaders around the country with training, 1:1 coaching and a written toolkit which we developed after seeing the Activist Toolkit.

We trained people in organising techniques such as relationship building, coaching and sharing their personal story. Our toolkit summarised these skills in easy-to-follow steps.

We highlighted our personal journeys to take action to inspire and connect with others, and we gave a lot of responsibility to the volunteers. This was very motivating and empowering for us, as organisers and activist leaders!

If you are interested in promoting a culture of consent, you can download our Activist Toolkit (PDF). It’s also available as a blog series.