Creating and enforcing a national safe word is a relatively simple concept. We need to create awareness of what a safe word is, how it is used, and what the word is. Additionally, we need a set of policies which recognize that is someone uses a safe word, it means all action needs to stop. Pressing forward after a safe word is used is rape.
This means there are several branches of action that need to occur to make a national safe word a thing.
Elected officials need to create civil codes and penal codes that specify “Red” is recognized as a national safe word. That when anyone uses the word “Red” it indicates that they need all action to stop immediately. It means that proceeding with what you are doing after “red” is called is a conscious and willful decision to rape someone.
Additionally, in education code, we need to create sections to specify that children are taught at an age appropriate level what a safe word is and what it means. We begin by letting young children know that if someone touches you in a way that you are uncomfortable or touches your “private parts” that you can say “red” and that you need to tell someone. We teach that telling someone about a “red” time is going to get you help.
As kids get older we can integrate safe words into sex education. This would allow us to teach children that there are lots of reasons for not wanting to have sex. They may not feel physically ready. They may not want to sleep with a specific person. They may have thought it sounded fun, but part way in, they want to stop. A safe word curriculum would teach all our kids that there are lots of reasons to not want to have sex and that is okay. It gives them a way to say “I think I want to sleep with you,” then after the action starts let their partner know, “I changed my mind,” without all the loaded and awkwardness of saying “I am not feeling this right now.”
Colleges can implement rules that say if “red” is used as a college function, frat or sorority party or in a dorm, students are taught to intervene and make sure someone is okay. It puts ending rape on the shoulders of the entire campus community.
We need to create age-appropriate sex education around a safe word. This means we would need to teach all children they have a right to protect their body and they have a right to only do what they want to do. We would empower children to say “no.”
We need to include in sex ed that a safe word is non-negotiable. That when it is used, you can no longer ask or do anything more. You have to stop. If not, there are consequences.
A national safe word allows for much more age appropriate sex education than our current system. We don’t even have to introduce the concept of sex to kids. We can start talking about protecting your body and having power over your body and a safe word helps you do that. I means we don’t have to tell a six year old what sex or rape or molestation is. We just tell them that if someone starts to touch them in a bad way, you say “red” and then tell another adult.
Once policies are written and we create a sex education curriculum, then we need to implement it. This means teaching about a national safe word in schools and college orientation. This means courts enforcing the importance of a safe word and punishing people who violate it.
We would also need a PSA campaign. For everyone not familiar with a safe word and not in school, a simple PSA campaign would be useful. Simple 30 second ads telling people that “red” means “stop now” and that someone needs help. If you coupled this with a media push by elected officials and stars talking about a safe word, it would be a matter of a year or two to get a safe word ingrained in the United States.
This campaign faces a few difficulties.
First, we live in a culture that does not give everyone full rights to protect their bodies. We try to control women and poor people by limiting access to birth control and severely restricting what you can buy with food stamps. We have a system which favors the rapist right now. We would have to find politicians with enough political will to assert that everyone has a right to stop sexual activity for any reason.
Second, the idea originates from the BDSM community. Kinksters as seen as “scary” and “weird.” We need kinky folks who look “normal” to show up at meetings and talk about why safe words are helpful tools. It means we can’t be showing up in our dungeon chic finest… but most of us have regular day jobs and own suits. We look pretty normal. It is convincing the rest of the world that just because I do weird stuff to get off, doesn’t mean I am super weird and creepy in my life (a recent UNC study actually demonstrated that BDSM practitioners were much less “rapey” than the rest of America).
These obstacles can be overcome. The need to help people protect themselves from rape is critical. We need to start creating the political will to do this.