RCASA’s Saturday Prevention: What is Consent?

In Education, Outreach, Prevention, Sexual Assault Awareness on September 11, 2010 at 8:00 am

If you think you’re going to have sex with someone other than yourself, there are a few key things you’ll definitely want to have. Three things in particular should be non-negotiable on your mental checklist:

1. A place to do it.

2. Protection from pregnancy and/or STDs (e.g., condoms, dental dams, or other latex).

3. A partner who is actively choosing to be sexual with you.

These things (especially the third one) may seem obvious to you, but bear with us. The thing is, consent is not just about manners and decency; it’s actually the law. Legally, you need a partner who is voluntarily, actively, clearly giving his/her consent prior to sexual activity.

That means they have to be awake, lucid and able to communicate what they want or don’t want. This is true even if you’ve been dating for a long time, even if you are committed. Any sex without consent – even within a marriage – fits the definition of sexual assault in Virginia.

A person who is too drunk, asleep or otherwise too out of it to be sure about what’s going on can’t legally meet the criteria for consent. Nor can someone who feels threatened or is afraid that if they say no something worse will happen.

Every person, no matter what the circumstances, has the right to withhold consent for sexual activity at any time. That means that if you don’t have active consent from the person you’re with, guess what? You risk committing a sexual assault, maybe without even realizing it. That’s all there is to it. So it’s crucial to be sure.

How Do I Know if There’s Consent?

The only way to be positive your partner is consenting is to check in with them along the way, listen to their responses, and act accordingly. In other words, ASK! And ask again if you’re not sure.


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