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Understanding Sexual Consent

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Understanding Sexual Consent

We communicate with each other in so many different ways. With our body language, the way we dress, our voices, and our facial expressions– it can be easy to misunderstand each other. But regarding sexual consent, mutual understanding must be clear. It's important to cover these key areas when discussing consent:

  • What is consent?

  • How is consent established?

  • How does impaired judgement affect consent?

  • How to intervene on a victim's behalf

The devastating emotional and legal consequences of sexual assault on both the accuser and the accused can hardly be overstated.

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Understanding and Establishing Consent

Consent is a voluntary agreement, or permission, to engage in sexual activity. Consent must be given every time and can be withdrawn at any time, for any reason.

  • To establish consent, each person must be competent, be of legal age, and engage without impaired decision-making

  • One person can’t be in a position of authority over another, such as a boss over an employee.

  • Check in with your partner and communicate expectations.

  • Never pressure your partner into activity beyond his or her comfort level.

  • These principles apply to all genders.

Sexual assault is any form of sexual contact that takes place without voluntary consent. How do you know if the person you’re with has given consent? Simply ask. Some questions you can ask include:

  • Do you want to slow down?

  • Do you want to stop?

  • Do you want to go any further?

  • Is this okay?

  • Only “yes” means “yes!”

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Under the Influence

Alcohol use does not cause sexual assault, although it is used as an excuse.

  • Alcohol is considered to be the most widely used date rape drug.

  • Drugs used against victims of assault often have no smell, taste, or color, making them difficult to detect in drinks.

  • Being under the influence of alcohol or drugs impairs judgement, makes victims unable to refuse sex or defend themselves, and decreases memory of incidences.

  • Being drunk or high does not cause sexual assault, although it is used as an excuse.

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Standing Up

Anyone can be an Active Bystander and stand up for the safety of others.

  • Intervention can look like challenging social norms, helping someone avoid a harmful event, or getting help in potentially dangerous situations.

  • Take direct actions like interrupting the conversation, talking directly to the perpetrator, or calling out the perpetrator for bad behavior.

  • Take indirect actions like recruiting friends for help, making up an excuse to get the victim away, or calling the authorities.

Social misunderstandings and the pressure to “fit in” with the crowd can put someone in a difficult or potentially harmful situation, but anyone can stand up and intervene to help a friend or stranger. Friends and colleagues can support each other by becoming Active Bystanders. Partners can cultivate healthy relationships using consent as a foundation for sexual activity. We can all know our limits with alcohol and drugs, and everyone can learn how to be an Active Bystander. Understanding and practicing consent empowers us all to respect the choices of others and take ownership for our actions and behavior.

For more information on on Sexual Consent or Bystander Intervention, check out some of our educational and promotional materials in our Sexual Assault Awareness section.

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