Warning: This article contains descriptions of rape and may be difficult for sexual assault survivors to read.

I was 16 years old when I was raped by someone I trusted. To this day, I’m not sure if my rapist actually knew that what he did was rape. He wanted to have sex but I said, “no wait.” He responded by saying, “no it’s okay” as if he could give himself permission. With the tone of voice he used, it’s as if he thought he was being comforting or romantic. Meanwhile, he had my left arm pinned down and when I tried to push him off with my right arm, he continued to say, “it’s okay.” Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to stop him. When I realized I stood no chance, I went into shock and froze up.

If you asked me what I thought of consent education before I was sexually assaulted, I would’ve laughed. I would’ve told you it was a silly idea because consent is common sense. The sad reality is too many people lack an understanding of what consent is and isn’t. Now, I wish my rapist had been taught that if a partner changes their mind, choosing to continue anyways is rape. While I can’t say for sure that consent education would have prevented my sexual assault, it’s certainly possible.

As a society, we tend to view rape as violent act in which a stranger pops out and attacks someone at night. Yet only 28% of rapes are committed by strangers. Since we typically don’t think of rape as something that happens between couples or acquaintances, people may find it easier to sexually assault someone they know, as in some circumstances, they may not realize what they’re doing is rape.

A 2014 study in which male college students anonymously filled out a survey found that men are more likely to commit rape when they don’t consider it “rape.” If it were up to me, I would have surveyed both genders – as rape can be committed by females as well. 31.7% of survey participants reported they would have “intentions to force a woman to sexual intercourse if nobody would ever know and there wouldn’t be any consequences.” Of these men, only 13.6% of them said they would have “intentions to rape a woman.”

In other words, people do not always perceive forced sexual intercourse as rape and rapists may not view themselves as such because they want to believe they are a good person. After all, sex offenders are said to be experts at rationalizing their behavior. We need to teach people that in specific situations, continuing or beginning to have sex is rape. For example, continuing to have sex or starting to have sex after a partner changes their mind is rape. Ignoring a partner who says they’re being hurt during sex is rape. Using threats to pressure someone into sex is rape. Giving yourself permission to have sex when the partner does not give it to you, even if they have in the past, is rape.

Imagine if we incorporated lessons on consent into sex-ed courses. Many colleges talk about consent at orientation but not everyone goes to college. Even if everyone did, consent lessons should be taught at an earlier age – before people find themselves in a situation where they’re not sure whether or not it’s okay to continue or start sexual intercourse. Consent education won’t be an end-all solution to sexual assault but if it prevents even one person from having to experience the same trauma that I did, it’s worth it.

If you or someone you know has been a victim of sexual assault, you can call the National Sexual Assault hotline at 1-800-656-4673 for confidential help.