Defining and understanding consent allows us to participate in safety and respect. While many laws about consent vary from state to state, it should not take a legal expert to lay out what consent is and how it is effectively communicated.
What is Consent?
Consent is communication between individuals who have a clear understanding of what is being asked and the capacity to make the decision and provide express permission. It respects personal boundaries and embraces the fact that we all deserve healthy relationships. It is our ability to empathetically consider another emotional and physical space, recognizing that our needs and wants are not the only important part of any process where it may be necessary- especially when it comes to sexual contact.
Any sexual activity without consent is rape or sexual assault.
At its core, consent is the recognition that equal balance and control are maintained throughout a relationship or interaction. This can mean that it may be withdrawn at any point in time – but we will get to that in a bit. It may include both verbal cues (“yes” or “I would like to try this) and non-verbal cues (suggesting comfort and understanding). However, it is essential to understand that consent is not always black and white and situations should be assessed.
You’re attending a party with two friends and notice another person from across the room. You approach them and begin a conversation, offering to get them a drink. Later in the evening, you ask if they might like to go home with you and they reply “I would like that.”
At face value, it would appear that a level of consent has been given and you are presented with two moments. Decide the individual understands the situation and has consented to whatever may come, or assess the situation and respect if the individual is capable of deciding to consent.
You provided them with several drinks throughout the evening. Are they slurring their words, stumbling over themselves, or acting outside of normal behavior? You asked them to go home with you. Do they understand the implication behind the question? Is it clearly communicated why you would like for them to return to your home? Have they displayed consentient comfort through the evening? Did the individual only become friendly towards you after the introduction of alcohol? When they responded that they would like that, did their body language present a sense of comfort or discomfort?
Questions may not seem appealing at the time, but these thoughts are all things that should be considered. Understanding that consent is never implied, that it does not mean yes just because an individual did not say “no,” and that there are real situations where it may not be legally provided is an important part in the development of respect for both ourselves and others. Consent may not be provided by individuals who are under the legal age of consent, who are incapacitated because of drugs or alcohol, are in an otherwise vulnerable position, or are pressured or coerced into saying yes.
Power & Control
Understanding the balance of power and control in any relationship defines what is appropriate and what is not. Power is the ability to influence the actions and choices of another and can be obvious (EX: supervisor or mentor) and less obvious when difference is sexual experience exist. Control occurs when power is asserted and utilizes tactics of psychological or physical nature to intimidate or influence a decision.
An imbalance in these characteristics may occur when an individual influences another to say yes to sex due to fear of consequences, or when someone abuses their power with verbal threats, violence, or other forms of abuse. Imbalances of power can present themselves when individuals are younger or less experienced and feel they “need to prove themselves,” privilege or a position in society is being utilized to pressure an individual, or when an individual presents with a mental or physical disability that may make them more vulnerable.
Balanced power and control also represent the idea that we reserve the right to request a situation stop.
Previous consent does not imply future consent. Respect the right to make the decision to stop at any moment and do not assume that consent provided previously represents consent in the new moment.
Teaching Consent From a Young Age
It should not feel scary to teach your child about consent. We begin learning consent the day we are capable of processing reactions and actions in our daily lives. From asking a child for a hug or kiss to respecting their personal boundaries by asking if you can post a photo of them on the internet, you define the importance of asking questions and emphasizing the importance of being able to make very personal decisions on their own.
Defining Consent to Youth
|Consent means you have asked someone for their permission & accept their answer. It happens when you ask someone if you can play with their toy, if they want to play sports with you, or if they’d like to sit with you at lunch or on the bus.|
|Ask yourself what messages your child is receiving and what messages you want them to get. Let your child know and feel they can come to you with questions and answer those questions honestly.|
Teach Asking For Consent
|Help your child think about and understand how their actions might make another person feel, define personal boundaries, and teach respect for those boundaries.|
Be A Positive Role Model
|Respect your child’s boundaries and ask them for consent with the understanding you will accept their answers. This includes asking for hug or sharing information about them. Use teachable moments to open conversations and further develop your relationship of trust and communication.|