Sexual Assault Awareness Month: Understanding Consent

April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month. In honor of that, I’m going to post a series of blog posts this month about different statistics and areas of sexual assault. If you haven’t already, check out my first two blogs in the series: Sexual Assault Awareness Month and Sexual Assault Awareness Month: LGTBQIA+.

Today, I want to discuss what I believe to be the most important part of Sexual Assault Awareness: Consent. There are some people in the world that intend harm when they sexually assault or harass another human being; however, in many other cases, there is a lack of education about consent and what it looks like.

RAINN defines consent as an agreement between individuals to engage in sexual activity:

“When you’re engaging in sexual activity, consent is about communication—and it should happen every time. The laws about consent vary by state and situation, but you don’t have to be a legal expert to understand how consent plays out in real life.”

There are many different ways to ask for or give consent, and RAINN details a few of these: asking if something is okay when transitioning to a new activity in the bedroom, explicitly agreeing or giving affirmatives to certain activities, or using positive body language to signal your comfort to your partner. There is many more ways, of course, but it’s important to remember communication when asking for or expressing consent.

According to RAINN, Consent does NOT look like:

  • refusing to acknowledge “no” or other words that signify that your partner is not interested
  • assuming certain behaviors (flirting), clothing, kissing is an invitation for more
  • someone being under the legal age of consent
  • someone under the influence of drugs and/or alcohol
  • pressuring someone into sexual activity by using fear/intimidation
  • assuming you have consent because your partner has given consent to you in prior situations

Different states have different definitions for consent, but RAINN defines three key legal terms regarding consent.

Affirmative consent: Did the person express overt actions or words indicating agreement for sexual acts?

Freely given consent: Was the consent offered of the person’s own free will, without being induced by fraud, coercion, violence, or threat of violence?

Capacity to consent: Did the individual have the capacity, or legal ability, to consent?

Capacity to consent involves many different factors. Whether or not a person has the legal ability to consent to sexual activity could be based on age, developmental disability, intoxication, physical disability, relationship of victim/perpetrator (was perpetrator in a position of authority?), unconsciousness, and vulnerable adults (i.e. elderly or ill adult). To view specifics of these factors, visit RAINN.

If you take anything from this blog post, these are the points I want you to remember.

You always have the right to say “no.” Even if it is your significant other or you’ve previously been involved with sexual activity with them.

Someone that is drunk or high is incapable of giving consent. Even if they seem into it at the time, they do not have the capacity to consent to sexual activity in that moment.

You can always change your mind. Consent is continuous, and if halfway through, you decide it’s no longer what you want — tell your partner. You have every right to stop.

Communication is key. Get comfortable asking for consent, and get comfortable providing it. Having open, healthy communication will truly benefit a healthy sexual relationship/encounter.

Remember you are not alone. If you need help, call the National Sexual Assault Hotline at 800.656.HOPE (4673) or chat online at online.rainn.org.

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