What Cartoons Can Teach Us About Consent (And Why We Need The Conversation To Continue)


Most 19-year-olds are trying to figure out what math class will be the easiest to take and whether or not driving to Canada for weekend beer seems feasible. But not Sara Li. At just 19 she’s a college freshman, sorority member, contributing writer for multiple websites (including Thought Catalog!), and the director of the non-profit, Project Consent.

This past week Project Consent released a series of short videos featuring animated *ahem* body parts and the response has been astronomical.

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GtY7QeI_rCU]

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1NqGqSqNq58]

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BHkUczVRHSM]

Sara was kind enough to answer some questions about the videos, what consent really means, the work they do at Project Consent, as well as their goals for upcoming projects. She is definitely a young voice to watch, pay attention to, and keep our eyes on for the future.

Why don’t we start by having you describe what Project Consent is, and what you do.

Sara Li: Project Consent is, in the simplest of explanations, an organization dedicated to fighting sexual assault. I know that’s such an umbrella expression for what we do, but that’s the ultimate goal. We want to support victims, we want to change the culture, we want to do everything we can to make a difference. I started Project Consent as a junior in high school, so two years ago, and now I just act as the Director.

What made you start Project Consent?

Sara: Honestly? Desperation. Hurt. Confusion. Anger. The myriad of emotions that comes with dealing with unexpected trauma at a young age and not knowing how to handle it. I was fourteen when my life fell apart as a result of someone else’s actions, and it took me a long time to find an outlet that was healthy. I started Project Consent because I was sick and tired of being a victim and I needed a way to reclaim my life again. I couldn’t really change the past, but I could do something about the future. I never thought that I’d be able to find a silver lining through all the pain, but helping people through Project Consent has immeasurably changed my life for the better.

Let’s talk about these videos for a second! The response to them has been HUGE – so first and foremost congrats! It’s an amazing accomplishment. Can you tell us about the process of making them and where the idea stemmed from?

Sara: Thank you so much! The wonderful people of Juniper Park originally came to us because they had heard of our campaign and wanted to help. We talked about how unnecessary it was to dance around the subject of consent when, really, talking about sex shouldn’t be a taboo. Therefore, we wanted to create a campaign that would be candid about what consent is and isn’t.

Why dancing genitals? Why cartoons? Why such a light hearted approach to something that can be so heavy?

Sara: Talking about consent shouldn’t be complicated, at all. We wanted something that was approachable and light because discussion about what’s appropriate and what isn’t shouldn’t have to be a difficult conversation, you know? Also, it’s just easy to catch people’s attention with an animated penis. It leads to great discussion.

What do you think are some of the biggest problems, and misconceptions centered around giving and asking for consent today?

Sara: The biggest issue when it comes to cases of sexual assault is that we talk about everything else BUT consent. There’s all of this bullshit with, “What were they wearing? Were they drinking? What’s their gender? What’s their sexual history?” and like, none of that matters. What defines a sexual assault case is simple: If someone was forced in a sexual situation against their will, it wasn’t consensual.

Now I know I’ve rarely had someone ask me, “Can I do this?” in such a direct manner. Not to say that anything has been nonconsensual because the direct question hasn’t been asked, but I bring it up because I think there’s some confusion about having to / how to ask someone if something is okay, or if they have permission. Do you have tips for asking for consent that you can share?

Sara: I don’t think it’s nearly as technical or complicated as people think it is. You can give consent in a non-verbal manner as well. If someone is blatantly uncomfortable in a position, you can usually assume something is off. Communication is key to any relationship (whether it be long term, one night, etc) and I think consent goes along naturally into that.

At the most basic definition, what does consent mean?

Sara: Agency. It’s what you do with your body with your permission.

What does the future hold for Project Consent?

Sara: Oh, God. So much. And I don’t mean that in a boastful way, I mean that in the “I have an incredible staff of innovative and driven people to help us continue this campaign,” type of way. We’re continuing our partnership with the White House’s It’s On Us Campaign. We’re working on short projects that’ll spark conversation and change. I can’t give the exact name, but we’re in contact with an Olympic medalist to work on something soon. I know nothing about sports, but we’re very excited nonetheless.

How can people get more involved or find out more about Project Consent?

Sara: Check out our website! It’s run by our staff so you’d be getting a direct reply. Email us at support@projectconsent. Tweet us, slide in our DMs, etc. We work really hard on being as accessible as possible, so it’s pretty easy to contact us. You can even message me directly, if you’d like. We’re thankful for every contribution that we get.