What is 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.
University of Michigan Policy & Procedures on Student Sexual and Gender-Based Misconduct and Other Forms of Interpersonal Violence defines consent as "a clear and unambiguous agreement, expressed outwardly through mutually understandable words or actions, to engage in a particular activity." Consent can be withdrawn by either party at any point. Consent must be voluntarily given and may not be valid if a person is being subjected to actions or behaviors that elicit emotional, psychological, physcial, reputational, financial pressure, threat, intimidation, or fear (coercion or force). Consent to engage in one sexual activity, or past agreement to engage in a particular sexual activity, cannot be presumed to constitute consent to engage in a different sexual activity or to engage again in a sexual activity. Consent cannot be validly given by a person who is incapacitated.
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.
Consent should not be assumed
Each of us is responsible for making sure we have consent in every sexual situation. If you are unsure, it is important to clarify what your partner feels about the sexual situation before initiating or continuing the sexual activity. Consent should not simply be assumed by:
- Body language, Appearance, or Non-Verbal Communication: One should never assume by the way a person dresses, smiles, looks or acts, that they to have sex with you.
- Dating relationships or previous sexual activity: Simply because two or more people are dating or have had sex in the past does not mean that they are consenting to have sex with you.
- Marriage: Even in marriage, a person should not assume they have consent for sexual activity. Marital rape is as serious as any other sexual assault.
- Previous Activity: Consent to engage in one sexual activity at one time is not consent to engage in a different sexual activity or to engage in the same sexual activity on a later occasion.
- Silence, Passivity, Lack of Resistance, or immobility: A person’s silence should not be considered consent. A person who does not respond to attempts to engage in sexual activity, even if they do not verbally say no or resist physically, is not clearly agreeing to sexual activity.
- Incapacitation: Alcohol consumption or use of other drugs can render a person incapable of giving consent. Alcohol is often used as a weapon to target individuals and is used by perpetrators to excuse their own actions. Additionally, Michigan Criminal Sexual Conduct laws apply to a perpetrator regardless of whether or not they were drinking. It is important to remember that sexual assault is never the survivor's fault, regardless of whether they may have been intoxicated.
Why Consent Is So Important to SAPAC
One of the core values that guides SAPAC’s work is respect. And for SAPAC, consent is respect. As we work towards a world free of sexual assault, intimate partner violence, stalking and sexual harassment, we promote equality and respect for all members of our community through our commitment to primary prevention. Our primary prevention approach is centered on our vision and hope for a future where we all expect consent for sexual activity to be verbal or oral, sober, and enthusiastic.