Hundreds of Kansas State University students learned about what constitutes healthy and safe relationships Tuesday evening during an event aimed at changing cultural norms about sexual assault.
The “Can I Kiss You?” program, presented by Mike Domitrz, the creator of the education program The Date Safe Project Inc., told students some of the problems with how American society sees sexual assault and how to change that thinking.
“Body language is the most unreliable form of communication,” Domitrz said about trying to read an intimate situation. That’s why he said it is best to ask, “Can I kiss you?” as a means of consent to give someone a choice before “making a move.”
Domitrz, in his fourth consecutive year presenting at K-State, is part of an initiative the school has made so that “all students have the opportunity to be reminded of healthy relationships,” Scott Jones, associate dean of students, said.
“We wanted to create a consistent message that would be told over time,” Jones said. “We’re hoping that we can begin to influence cultural norms that relate to interpersonal relationships and interpersonal violence.”
Jones said the goal was for students to recognize what constitutes a healthy relationship, to decide for themselves what they may want and to be able to be an effective bystander and prevent sexual violence from happening.
In an interactive and humorous presentation, Domitrz, pulled students from the audience, changed their names to gender-neutral ones and put them in pretend dating scenarios. He did not assign gender to any of the participants in the scenarios so that viewers wouldn’t assume anyone’s sexual orientation.
“Once you get ‘the look,’ do most people say, ‘Can I kiss you?’ or do they just go for it? Domitrz asked the audience. “Go for it,” the audience yelled back.
He said asking before acting gave the partner an empowering choice.
“Are you normally given a choice before it happens or during?” Domitrz asked. “The definition of ‘going for it’ is - here literally is the definition of ‘going for it’ - one partner attempts to sexually touch the other partner until they stop them,” he said.
“Now if you actually thought about that and stepped back and went, ‘That sounds like a predator.’”
Domitrz also spoke about hang-ups students might have had about asking, from fear of rejection to being awkward and ruining a moment.
He said being on a date already means that one is willing to risk rejection and asking would hardly go unappreciated, one reason being that it shows respect for the other person and confidence.
“What takes more confidence? Asking or ‘going for it’?” Domitrz said. “Asking,” the audience said.
“Real confidence means, ‘I’ll put it out, and I don’t have any fear. I can handle the answer,’” Domitrz said.
Freshman Elaine Sisco, a participant in the interactive talk, said she was going to take with her what she learned from Domitrz because she wants to talk with middle school and high school students about sexual assault in addition to talking them about bullying, something she already does.
She said she’d put what Domitrz had to say into practice.
She said the main thing she learned was “probably asking questions,” she said.
“Like not being shy about it and just going for it (asking),” Sisco said.
Domitrz also told students how to stop a sexual assault, or its equivalent in nicer terms, “taking advantage,” he said.
“We’ve got to call it what it is,” Domitrz said. ‘Taking advantage’ of someone or a ‘drunken hook-up’ is sexual assault or rape,’ he said.
Domitrz, who started working on sexual assault education after his own older sister was raped when Domitrz was in college, gave a four-step process for stopping predators.
Those steps, he said, are to identify sexual assault, picture that the potential victim could be one’s own loved one, team up and check in on the situation and stay calm and focused.
He said one reason why people don’t prevent sexual assault is because of a fear of confrontation.
But he disproved that notion by saying to students, “Human beings have no problems with confrontation if we believe it’s worth it,” he said. That’s why he wanted students, when dealing with a decision about getting someone out of a sexual assault, to picture their own loved one as the potential victim.
He said human beings are wired to care about one another.
Because of that, he said, “We definitely can’t say, ‘This is none of my business.’”