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Sexual Assault and Understanding Consent

It's Time to Continue the Conversation About Consent

Sexual assault and harassment is far too prevalent in our society, but the conversation around these topics is finally gaining steam. The #MeToo movement sprang up in late 2017, and the stories that have been shared are sobering, shocking, and not too surprising all at once.

In light of this topic, I'd like to take some time to talk about consent. It can feel like a tricky topic to navigate, but the first step in understanding is to learn more and challenge your preconceived notions.

What is consent?

The University of Michigan's Sexual Assault Prevention and Awareness Center has a great definition of consent :

“Consent is when someone agrees, gives permission, or says "yes" to sexual activity with other persons. Consent is always freely given and all people in a sexual situation must feel that they are able to say "yes" or "no" or stop the sexual activity at any point.”

Notice the emphasis on a clear “yes” to the sexual activity.

“No means no” isn't enough when it comes to consent

All too often we're taught about consent with a “no means no” framework, but it's clear that all too often, saying no isn't enough.

For starters, someone who is impaired won't be able to vocalize their lack of consent. Others are too afraid to say no, or fear that it wouldn't matter anyway. These are all important considerations that highlight why “no means no” isn't as clear-cut as it seems, and why “yes means yes” is a better way to frame the topic.

Don't assume consent has been given

It can be tempting to assume that consent has been given, but consent should never be assumed because:

  • Of the way someone looks or dresses.
  • Of past sexual history, even if you were part of that history.
  • Marriage.
  • Incapacitation due to alcohol or drugs.
  • The other person is silent or not clearly saying no.

If you're ever unsure whether consent for sexual activity has been given, the solution is simple: ask. And when the answer is given, listen to it and respect it.

The importance of understanding consent

The idea of consent has gained prominence recently due to the power of the #MeToo movement, but don't forget to practice the principles of consent in other areas of your life. If you don't advocate for your own needs, no one else will. Paying attention to your own wants and needs will also help you better understand the wants and needs of others, whether the interaction is sexual or non-sexual.

In summary, I'll leave you with another statement from the University of Michigan, because it captures the core of consent so well:

“At the heart of consent is the idea that every person has a right to personal sovereignty – the right to not be acted upon by someone else in a sexual manner unless they give that person clear permission. It is the responsibility of the person initiating the sexual activity to get this permission.”