Monday, May 6, 2013

The Tough Conversations: What is Consent?

In the last several months there have been three rape cases that have grabbed worldwide headlines: Stueben villeAudrie Pott, and Rehtaeh Parsons.  Each of these cases included the following: incapacitated teenage girl, group of teenage boys (probably themselves impaired by alcohol or drugs), social media, complacency of bystanders.  In two of these cases, Audrie Pott and Rehtaeh Parsons, the victims eventually committed suicide after enduring months of torment from their peers.  Clearly it is time to talk to our teens about consent.

What is Consent?
According to the West's Encyclopedia of American Law consent is: Voluntary Acquiescence to the proposal of another; the act or result of reaching an accord; a concurrence of minds; actual willingness that an act or an infringement of an interest shall occur. Consent is an act of reason and deliberation. A person who possesses and exercises sufficient mental capacity to make an intelligent decision demonstrates consent by performing an act recommended by another. Consent assumes a physical power to act and a reflective, determined, and unencumbered exertion of these powers. It is an act unaffected by Fraud, duress, or sometimes even mistake when these factors are not the reason for the consent...In the context of rape, submission due to apprehension or terror is not real consent.
Yale College's website uses the following definition for Sexual Consent: Sexual activity requires consent, which is defined as clear, unambiguous, and voluntary agreement between the participants to engage in specific sexual activity. Consent cannot be inferred from the absence of a "no"; a clear "yes," verbal or otherwise, is necessary. Although consent does not need to be verbal, verbal communication is the most reliable form of asking for and gauging consent, and individuals are thus urged to seek consent in verbal form. Talking with sexual partners about desires and limits may seem awkward, but serves as the basis for positive sexual experiences shaped by mutual willingness and respect.  Consent cannot be obtained from someone who is asleep or otherwise mentally or physically incapacitated, whether due to alcohol, drugs, or some other condition. Consent cannot be obtained by threat, coercion, or force. Agreement given under such conditions does not constitute consent.  Consent must be clear and unambiguous for each participant throughout any sexual encounter. Consent to some sexual acts does not imply consent to others, nor does past consent to a given act imply ongoing or future consent. Consent can be revoked at any time. For all of these reasons, sexual partners must evaluate consent in an ongoing fashion and should communicate clearly with each other throughout any sexual encounter.

What does this mean for teens?
  • If alcohol IN ANY AMOUNT or drugs of ANY KIND are involved CONSENT CANNOT BE GIVEN.  Any sexual activity that occurs is assault or rape.
  • If someone is ASLEEP, PASSED OUT, or otherwise UNCONSCIOUS, consent CANNOT BE GIVEN.  Any sexual activity that occurs is assault or rape.
  • UNLESS you get a clear, definitive and un-coerced verbal "yes" then assume that you DO NOT HAVE CONSENT and any sexual activity that occurs is assault or rape.
Sexual consent is like pregnancy, there is no grey area - you either have consent or
your are committing a crime and subjecting someone to sexual assault and/or rape.

Talk to your teens.  It may be an uncomfortable or embarrassing conversation, but it is one that needs to happen.  Clearly there is a disconnect between the conversations we, as a society, and the realities that our teens are facing daily.