An offer you can refuse.

No Means No is a support and pressure group whose main aim is to put a full-stop to sexual violence and harassment in Gibraltar by challenging commonplace myths about what actually constitutes as ‘sexual violence’.

The group is looking into raising awareness within the community at large, not just in schools, where it is fundamental that the disrespect towards women’s bodies – as well as men’s – is curbed as early as possible and definitely before puberty.

No Means No call for tougher sentences as a deterrent, as well as rehabilitation for first-time offenders, protection of victims from intimidation and the emotional and reputational damage that court appearances may cause, the institution of an official register of offenders, and the publication of statistics on the percentage of cases prosecuted, acquitted, or convicted with minimum and maximum sentencing. They are also lobbying for the existing clause that convictions can be run concurrently to be phased out; in other words, if someone is found guilty of multiple counts of rape, they should be sentenced to time proportional not only to the crime but also to the number of times it was committed.

Given the very circumstances that constitute rape, it is seldom that eye witnesses were present and the debate boils down to a ‘he-says-she-says’ situation, so that truth doesn’t always win in court, but rather the side with the better lawyer or sounder credibility in the jury’s eyes. The pressure group is also calling for the removal of the clause that allows the defendant to claim he wasn’t aware the victim was underage.

A spokesperson says: “We have decided to remain as an association for now. With Gib Sams and Childline already doing an excellent job at manning helplines that deal with mental health issues that could result from sexual violence offering support for people that may have been abused in childhood, we have put this important aspect of our work on hold. This coming year we will focus on raising awareness and educating the youth. We are planning an interactive ‘consent’ workshop aimed at students before they leave for university, with real life testimonies and a chance to explore concerns around this issue. We also need to fundraise to get literature out to help educate.”

They want victims, as well as society at large, to understand firmly that rape or harassment must not be blamed on the victim, in a world where the prejudice of ‘you asked for it when you wore that miniskirt!’ is still pretty much upheld. Young people must be told that they can and they will plainly and assertively say no, if they don’t feel this is the right time or person to engage in sexual activities with, as well as being advised on how to interpret negative signals and relent.

‘No Means No’ calls for sex education in the curriculum to touch not only upon the biological changes children go through on their way to adulthood, but also the emotional importance of it within relationships and, most importantly, etiquette.

Perhaps it is time to reintroduce the subtle art of Victorian courtship, virtually unknown to millennials, or just to brush on the 60s invention of ‘puppy love’. ‘No Means No’ deplores the mentality spreading amongst teenagers who wouldn’t acknowledge two people being romantically involved unless they entertained regular sexual relations – a far cry from the very meaning of romance!

Consequently, many children reach adulthood with a history or a reputation of being promiscuous, with the inevitable emotional and physical strings attached – and one cannot help wonder how many of those experiences can be still considered fully consensual in hindsight, or rather regretted as poor decisions prompted by impulse, naivety, conformity to peer pressure or the mindset that ‘the one you’re crushing on won’t like-like you anymore if you say no’.

The group is not at all about instituting a Puritan state: they claim that discovering and exploring sexuality is the single biggest change in teenage years, and its healthy inception and fruition may affect people for the rest of their lives, so it must not be repressed through excess morals leading to backdoor deviant escapades, but actually celebrated openly like a rite of passage, which must be enjoyed safely and sensibly.

It is important to make youngsters realise that the definition of sexual abuse includes a variety of aggressive behaviours – some harder for the victim to identify than others – from stalking, indecent exposure, sexting, voyeurism, sex trafficking and exploitation to indecent assault. All these are never about obtaining sexual intercourse per se, but about the perpetrator viciously exercising his or her control, power and dominance over the victim, research says.

Because victims are most likely to be assaulted by someone they know and trust, perhaps even like and love, it is harder for them to promptly react, according to an evolutionary behavioural trait dubbed the ‘lizard effect’, so they end up blaming themselves later, spiralling into self-destructive behaviour to deal with emotional pain – if they survive the physical pain, as a worrying percentage of rapes and gang-rapes result into manslaughter or homicide.

Most survivors don’t speak up for fear of retaliation or ridicule, and allow themselves to give in to self-blame which may lead to withdrawal, self-harm, depression, and ultimately suicide.

Sexual abuse happens at all ages and it is quite common in the workplace between adults, not as consentient as one may assume from the media-stirred myth of carefree office affairs, but direly driven to submission and silence by practical considerations like rank and the fear of losing one’s job.

Although most common on women, sexual abuse does affect men too: male victims are more reticent to speak up because of the stigma attached to it, on the other hand they are by no means less receptive than females to the circle of guilt and shame – actually exacerbated by self-questioning one’s masculinity.

Recently it was revealed how domestic abuse has trebled in Gibraltar in a short amount of time; worrying data indeed that can also be interpreted by assuming that only the reports have trebled, rather than the sheer number of cases, which may mean victims are finally aware that what happened to them is a crime needing reporting as such.

By smashing the wall of silence and misdirected shame they can help justice be served and prevent others from falling victims of the same crime or, worse still, the same perpetrator. The group notes that twenty-seven cases of sexual violence have been reported to the police in the past year according to Parliament, however only a handful of these reports had ended up in perpetrators being charged. “We are in the process of requesting statistics for the last two years from the commissioner of police to assess what is happening locally,” the group says.

For personal accounts, advice and support, visit facebook.com/nomeansnogib.