RCASA’s Friday Facts: What Is “Consent?”

In Friday Facts, Sexual Assault Awareness on June 3, 2011 at 8:00 am

Sexual assault is the commission of an unwanted sexual act, whether by an acquaintance or by a stranger, that occurs without indication of consent of both individuals, or that occurs under threat or coercion. Sexual assault can occur either forcibly and/or against a person’s will, or when a person is incapable of giving consent. A person is legally incapable of giving consent if under 18 years of age; if intoxicated by drugs and/or alcohol; if developmentally disabled; or if temporarily or permanently mentally or physically unable to do so.

Under federal and state law, sexual assault includes, but is not limited to, rape, forcible fondling (e.g., unwanted touching or kissing for purposes of sexual gratification), forcible sodomy, forcible oral copulation, sexual assault with an object, sexual battery, and threat of sexual assault.

All sexual activity requires consent.  Consent (as it applies to sexual activity) is a verbal agreement by an individual to engage in a specific sexual activity.  Other types of communication, such as body language or the absence of “no” are not consent.  One should assume that they have not received consent in the absence of a comprehensible, unambiguous, verbal, positive and enthusiastic statement of consent.  Verbal communication before any sexual contact will insure that each person understands whether or not there is consent. 

The absence of consent before and during sexual activity has serious consequences ranging from feelings of hurt and betrayal to criminal charges of the crimes of rape, sexual assault and sexual battery.  If an individual is asleep, passed out, has consumed alcohol or drugs, or is in any other way impaired, she or he cannot give legal consent.  Even if the individual appears to be giving consent, the presence of any controlled substance or the condition of a compromised state renders that individual unable to give legal consent.  Additionally, the act of giving verbal consent in the past doesn’t imply consent for present or future sexual activity. 

Make sure the sex you are having is consensual:

  • Do not make assumptions about consent; lack of a “no” is not a “yes”
  • Ask for consent – it communicates respect and generally sex is better if both partners can talk about what they like/don’t like
  • Communicate clearly – talk about your sexual desires and limits
  • Know that if someone is intoxicated they cannot legally consent to sex. Having sex with someone who is intoxicated is rape.
  • Approach relationships as equal partners, openly communicating in an atmosphere of mutual respect and shared decision-making.


It is an individual’s personal responsibility to obtain consent without force, intimidation or coercion in order to engage in any sexual activity every time.


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