What does sexual consent mean? | Guest column

by Anita Castle

Executive Director, DVSAS

April is Sexual Assault Awareness month. As part of our work at DVSAS of the San Juan Islands, we understand we need to do more than just tell the community that sexual violence is a problem. We need to engage in meaningful conversations with the community, building skills regarding ways on how to participate or respond with proactive, positive behavior. As preventionists and advocates we know a beginning place is helping communities understand consent – legitimate consent.

An accurate definition of sexual assault, within the context of consent, is a violation of the active process of freely and willingly choosing to participate in sex of any kind with another person. Consent involves a shared responsibility by each individual who engages in any kind of sexual interaction with another.

It’s true that many people think once consent is given it means that consent is given to everything. As almost every woman knows, that’s wrong. Sex consists of an evolving series of actions and interactions with a partner. True consent is an enthusiastic event with a partner and requires that a participant is fully engaged and fully informed of what’s taking place.

Washington Coalition of Sexual Assault Programs provides some accurate and essential rules regarding consent.

• Consent is about each individual involved in a sexual or possibly sexual interaction.

• Consent can ALWAYS be withdrawn.

• Nothing makes consent either automatic or unnecessary.

• In some situations, full, informed and free consent cannot be given or shared due to being intoxicated, being asleep, being unable to really understand what he/she is saying yes to, being under duress, etc.

• A lack of consent means stop.

• A lack of “no” does not mean “yes.”

Our culture, social media and the Internet have created confusing roadblocks for young and vulnerable people around the issue of consent.

For example, sexting is a huge issue that sets up potentially complex and damaging outcomes for many teens and for adults who have not progressed beyond their teens mentally. Just because a vulnerable person texts a nude picture, doesn’t mean he or she has the capacity to consent to sex.

I would like to recommend a valuable resource for teens and young adults using their language: “S.E.X.” by Heather Corrnina. Our teens know about sex and they need access to objective information about what’s healthy, safe and how to navigate relationships. This resource will help both males and females to achieve that goal.

I want to speak directly to young people. Consent does not exist if: you or a partner are too intoxicated to give consent; your partner is asleep or passed out; you hope your partner will say nothing and go with the flow; or you have already formed an intent to have sex by any means necessary.

Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault Services, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit, encourages the community to take a proactive role to start and engage in meaningful conversations and discussions about “contextualizing consent.”

More information can be found at the following links: www.wcsap.org; www.nsvrc.org; www.rainn.org; www.dvsassanjuans.org