“You could’ve just said no.”

And I did. Six times, to be exact. And six times, my no was disregarded, and eventually, I was violated. I had met this guy on a dating app and red flags began to appear within the first 30 minutes of meeting him: he had taken me to his house way deep in a subdivision instead of a coffee shop like he promised earlier that night. “It’s already late. Let’s just have coffee in my house.” I agreed. There was no coffee; there were just multiple excuses and attempts of getting me in his bed. I got on his bed but only to talk. I sat more than a meter away from him, to which he said “Come closer. Don’t be shy.” But see, I’m never shy. I’m the most vocal person I know — and that’s why the events that unfolded that night still come as a surprise to me. I had trusted in my vocalness to protect me for so long that when it failed me, I resorted to bargaining instead. Six times, I said no. The seventh time, I begged him to use a condom.

GRAPHICS: James Tristian M. Atillo

The logic behind “You could’ve just said no” is that saying no is enough; that saying no loud and clear is enough to prevent sexual misconduct, harassment, or assault. In a perfect world, that logic would apply. In a perfect world, the sexual power any person wields, at least through vocalness, is potent enough to establish boundaries and direct situations. But the reality is: words are not enough. A word, such as no, is still not powerful enough.

If no was powerful enough, then a woman would not have to say it six times and still get raped; then there would have been less women than the current record of three in five women who have been sexually harassed at least once in Quezon City, based on a study conducted by the Social Weather Stations in 2016; then there would be less than 18 million tweets sent out as part of the #MeToo movement in 2018.

“You could’ve just said no.”

No, in this case, is an answer to the question of consent. As opposed to yes, the power of no is weak. Rejection is a much harder pill to swallow than acceptance, and so we work our way around it, even go as far as to manipulate it to turn the no into a yes.  It is sickening to think that some people are quicker to acknowledge the bare minimum of a yes than the most explicit and vocal version of a no.

No is not powerful enough to be a simple no. It is not powerful enough to be taken as a definite answer; it is easily reduced to a challenge or a delay. No is taken as a ‘not yet,’ a ‘later,’ a ‘yes, eventually’ or a ‘yes, if you persist.’ No is seen as a problem that, with the right workaround, could be solved.

But no is not as problematic as we make it out to be. If we go by the meaning of consent as a hard yes, then any variant and volume of no should be taken as a hard no. A person who says no is not a person who needs more convincing, more wooing, more touching. A person who says no is not a person who needs more alcohol or more conversation. A person who says no is a person who is to be taken seriously and with a great deal of respect. A person who says no is a person who must be treated accordingly, and if not, should be left alone.

Now, tell me, with the true power of no revealed by cases upon cases of misconduct and assault, could I really just have said no? Knowing that my no could be taken in a million different ways except for its true meaning, would I still want to rely on the power of no?

“You could’ve just said no.”

We would think that the power of no lies in its giver. That if no is given as an assertive and tenacious answer, it would be impossible to ignore—but it is not as simple as that. The power of no is spread across its multiple interpretations we have so far allowed to be valid. The power of no lies in the resolve of that who has the upper hand. The power of no lies in the burden of action society places on the victim rather than the assailant.

“You could’ve just said no.”

I will not deny that the weight of my story is carried across my statements, but I don’t believe that my testimony makes them less true. Call me biased, because I am, but I wish I was baseless. I am biased for a society that raises the power of no to a bar that is impossible to reach by those who want to diminish its value. Together, we have to make no as powerful as a yes. We have to make no powerful enough that physical defense would not be necessary. We have to make no powerful enough that a woman has to say it only once.

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