“How to Give Consent”

Frenci Nguyen

Lack of “no” does not mean “yes.”

The first thing you learn—or rather, are reminded of—as a creative writer is to show and not tell. Let the readers fill in the missing parts. Instead of writing, “She felt violated,” you should say, “He betrayed her trust even though she begged him to stop.” The details a writer gives imply the obvious for readers, so we have to trust that they will pick up on what’s left unsaid.

That afternoon six years ago, he didn’t stop when I told him it hurt. He promised me that he would, too, but because he was barely in, he told me I could endure it. I laid there on the bed, arms over my eyes as I tried to bear the pain. He continued to violate me, to betray me.

If you pursue literature, the main thing they drill into you is rhetoric, which is how people shape their arguments to either persuade or dissuade an audience. You learn that experienced rhetoricians manipulate emotions through pathos, back up their claims through ethos, and make their arguments sensible through logos. When all these elements work in perfect harmony, the audience plays right into the rhetorician’s hands.

Just like I played right into his hands when he told me he wanted to become closer to me. I was only fifteen, but he said he loved me (and I thought I loved him), so it was only natural that he would desire more intimacy. It was his way of showing he cared.

Maybe I also should have shown more. If I had cried or screamed or shoved him away, tried anything to pry myself from him, maybe he would have listened to my “It hurts.”

I never told him no, but I did beg him to stop.

Non-fiction piece by Frenci Nguyen

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