Consent

 

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Note: The information below is intended to help well-meaning people take care of themselves and each other in sexual situations.  People who don't have good intentions may manipulate the language of consent to hurt someone.

What is consent?

Consent is an agreement that each person makes if they want to engage in sexual activity. The issue of consent can be a complicated and ambiguous area that needs to be addressed with clear, open, and honest communication. Keep these points in mind if you are not sure consent has been established:

Each person needs to be fully conscious and aware.
The use of alcohol or other substances can interfere with someone's ability to make clear decisions about the level of intimacy they are comfortable with. The more intoxicated a person is, the less they are able to give conscious consent.

Each person is equally free to act.
The decision to be sexually intimate must be without coercion. Each person must have the option to choose to be intimate or not. Each person should be free to change "yes" to "no" at any time. Factors such as body size, previous victimization, threats to "out" someone, and other fears can prevent an individual from freely consenting.

Each person clearly communicates their willingness and permission.
Willingness and permission must be communicated clearly and unambiguously. Just because a person fails to resist sexual advances does not mean that they are willing. Consent is not the absence of the word "no."

Each person is positive and sincere in their desires.
It is important to be honest in communicating feelings about consent. If one person states their desires, the other person can make informed decisions about the encounter.

(Adapted from Berkowitz, Alan. "Guidelines for Consent in Intimate Relationships," Campus Safety & Student Development, Vol. 3, No. 4, March/April 2002.)

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Why is consent important?

  • Communication, respect, and honesty  are fundamental to great sex and relationships.
  • Without knowing if you have consent, you may be committing sexual assault.
  • Asking for and obtaining consent shows that you have respect for both yourself and your partner.
  • Positive views on sex and sexuality are empowering.
  • It eliminates the entitlement that one partner may feel over the other. Neither your body nor your sexuality belongs to someone else.
  • It is normal and healthy for women to expect to be included in the consent process.

How do you ask for consent?

Show your partner that you respect them enough to ask about their sexual needs and desires. If you are not accustomed to communicating with your partner about sex and sexual activity, the first few times may feel awkward. But, practice makes perfect. Be creative and spontaneous. Don’t give up. The more times you have these conversations with your partner, the more comfortable you will become communicating about sex and sexual activity. Your partner may also find the situation awkward at first, but conversations about consent will build trust and respect for one another.

When? Before you act. It is the responsibility of the person initiating a sex act to obtain clear consent. Whenever you are unsure if consent has been given, ask. Check-in throughout. Giving consent ahead of time does not waive a person’s right to change their mind or say no later.

How? Consent is not just about getting a yes or no answer, but about understanding what a partner is feeling. Ask open-ended questions. Listen to and respect your partner’s response, whether you hear yes or no: “I’d really like to . . . how does that sound?”  “How does this feel?”  “What would you like to do?”

Before you have sex, ask yourself...
Have I expressed what I want? Do I know what my partner wants? Am I certain that consent has been given? Is my potential partner sober enough to decide whether or not to have sex? Am I sober enough to know that I've correctly gauged consent?

How does alcohol affect someone's ability to give consent?

Alcohol lowers inhibitions and impairs judgment. In small amounts, it can make someone feel more relaxed. However, because intoxication is affected by weight, gender, time, medication and other factors, a small amount for one person could be a lot for someone else. In addition, people may not count their drinks accurately or they may not realize how much alcohol is in a drink. To understand blood alcohol concentration, go to this page.

It may be difficult to tell if someone is too intoxicated to give consent. It is especially difficult to gauge if you have been drinking, since your judgment will be impaired. Some potential signs that someone cannot consent include slurred speech, problems with balance and impaired motor skills. However, you will not be able to gauge many factors: Is the person's blood alcohol level continuing to rise? Did they pregame or have drinks that you don't know about? Did they drink high proof alcohol (such as Everclear or 151 rum) without knowing it? Is the person taking medication or other drugs that will interact with the alcohol? Is the person fatigued, dehydrated and/or hungry and could have a stronger reaction to the alcohol? Because of these and other factors, the safest, healthiest thing to do is to engage in sexual activity when both/all persons involved are sober.

Being too intoxicated to gauge consent will not absolve you of the responsibility of obtaining consent if you are initiating sex. You can be held accountable for sexual assault by law and the student code of conduct.

What about other drugs?

Illegal drugs or medications can also impair someone's ability to consent. Depressants, like GHB, Rohypnol and painkillers, will impair judgment and motor skills. Depressants are
especially dangerous when combined with alcohol.

Hallucinogens, like LSD and mushrooms, can alter reality and make a person feel like they can do things that they really can't. Stimulants, like cocaine and ADHD medications, increase heart rate and respiration. When they are combined with alcohol, people often drink more than they normally would. Other drugs, like marijuana and ecstasy, often have several different effects, such as impaired judgment and mild hallucinations. Click here to learn more about specific drugs.

As with alcohol, there are always many factors involved in each individual's response to a drug. With illegal drugs, there are often added substances that make the effects even more unpredictable.

Being too intoxicated to gauge consent will not absolve you of the responsibility of obtaining consent if you are initiating sex. You can be held accountable for sexual assault by law and the student code of conduct.

How do you know you have consent?

Red: Signs You Should Stop
Your partner is too intoxicated to give consent. (This is difficult to know, but some potential signs include slurred speech, problems with balance and impaired motor skills.)
You are too intoxicated to gauge consent.
Your partner is asleep.
Your partner is unconscious or for any other reason is physically or mentally unable to communicate consent.
You are using physical force or size to have sex.
You hope your partner will say nothing and go with the flow.
You don't think they would agree to have sex if they were sober.
You have had sex before but they have said they're not interested tonight.
You have coerced your partner in any way (asking repeatedly, putting pressure on your partner, physically intimidating them, etc.).
You intend to have sex by any means necessary.

Yellow: Signs You Should Pause and Talk
You are not sure what the other person wants.
You feel like you are getting mixed signals.
You have not talked about what you want to do.
You assume that you will do the same thing as before.
Your partner stops or is not responsive.

Green: Keep Communicating
Partners come to a mutual decision about how far to go.
Partners clearly express their comfort with the situation.
You feel comfortable and safe stopping at any time.
Partners are excited!

Adapted from American College Health Association, Shifting the Paradigm: Primary Prevention of Sexual Violence Toolkit.

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What if I am confused about a sexual experience I've had?

If you are confused about an experience you've had or not sure if your partner respected your boundaries, you can speak with someone on campus. Brown students can contact Bita Shooshani, bita@brown.edu or 401.863-2794 for confidential support. Please check below for more resources on and off campus.

Resources

Sexual Assault Response Line 401.863-6000
Available through Psychological Services' on-call system. Confidential crisis support and information is available for any Brown student dealing with sexual assault. The on-call counselor is also available to accompany a victim to the hospital.

Coordinator of Sexual Assault Prevention and Advocacy
Bita Shooshani, 401.863-2794, bita@brown.edu, 3rd floor of Health Services
Bita is available to help students affected by sexual violence and abuse in a relationship. Confidential services include support for a survivor or the friends of a survivor, help exploring options to address the incident (such as filing a complaint, if that is the student's choice) and educational programs for the student community. When you speak to Bita, you do not have to pursue any specific course of action and no action will be taken unless it’s something you choose.

Counseling and Psychological Services 401.863-3476
Clinicians provide confidential crisis support, follow-up appointments, and 24-hour on-call services for any Brown student dealing with sexual assault.  Located at J Walter Wilson, Room 516.

Brown Department of Public Safety 401.863-4111 (emergency response)
Emergency response available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. You may also direct any complaints to Public Safety's administrative number, 863-3322.

Brown Emergency Medical Services (EMS) 401.863-4111
Emergency response available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

University Health Services 401.863-3953
Confidential medical care, testing and treatment. Emergency contraceptive pills and treatment for sexually transmitted infections are available. Located at 13 Brown Street on the corner of Brown and Charlesfield Streets.

Office of Student Life/Dean-on-Call 401.863-3800
Provides a crisis response system which includes deans-on-call.

Sexual Assault & Domestic Violence Hotline 1-800-494-8100
If you or someone you know needs help because of a sexual assault or an abusive relationship, call this hotline 24 hours a day. Counselor-advocates provide confidential support and are available to accompany victims of sexual assault to the hospital and police station. Ongoing counseling and support groups are available. (This hotline is specific to Rhode Island. Contact the National Sexual Assault Hotline at 1-800-656-HOPE if you need help in another state.)

Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network (RAINN) 1-800-656-HOPE
This is a national hotline for victims of sexual assault. The hotline offers free, confidential counseling and support 24 hours a day, from anywhere in the country. When a survivor calls the hotline, s/he is connected to the nearest local rape crisis center through a unique computer routing system that maintains the confidentiality of callers.

Local Hospitals and Emergency Rooms:

Women & Infants Hospital 401.274-1100
101 Dudley Street, Providence

Rhode Island Hospital 401.444-5411
593 Eddy Street, Providence

Miriam Hospital 401.793-2500
164 Summit Avenue, Providence

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Links You Can Use

The Office of Student Life, Student Handbook
This is an online version of the Student Handbook that links to the section on policies and regulations. Brown's definition of sexual misconduct is outlined here as well as the steps taken when an assault occurs.

Day One: The Sexual Assault and Trauma Resource Center
Day One is the RI resource for victims of sexual assault and their families. The site provides information on a range of topics, including sexual assault, child sexual abuse, internet safety and sex offender management. Day One offers individual and group counseling for survivors of sexual abuse, child sexual abuse and for their families.

Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network (RAINN)
This web site offers information and statistics on sexual assault and can locate a local rape crisis center in your area.

The Rape Treatment Center
This web site offers information on the impact of rape, date rape drugs, facts and statistics, as well as a comprehensive list of links to other resources.

For Men Only: Male Survivors of Sexual Assault
This page is from the Counseling and Mental Health Center at the University of Texas at Austin and offers another source of information for male survivors of sexual assault.

Gay Men's Domestic Violence Project
The Gay Men's Domestic Violence Project is a grassroots, non-profit organization providing community education and direct services for clients. GMDVP offers shelter, guidance, and resources to allow gay, bisexual, and transgender men in crisis to leave violent situations and relationships.

Anti-Violence Project
This project serves lesbian, gay, transgender, bisexual and HIV-positive victims of violence, and others affected by violence, by providing free and confidential services enabling them to regain their sense of control, identify and evaluate their options, and assert their rights.

The Network/La Red
617-423-SAFE (Hotline in English and Spanish)
This program offers free services in English and Spanish for lesbians, bisexual women and transgender people who are victims of battering. These services include a hotline, emergency shelter and advocacy programs. Located in Boston, Massachusetts.

1 in 6 For Men
A website with resources for men who have had unwanted or abusive sexual experiences in their childhood, including 24-hour online support, educational material covering the impact of sexual abuse, and stories of healing from male survivors.

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Disclaimer: BWell Health Promiotion is part of Health Services at Brown University. Health Promotion maintains this site as a resource for Brown students. This site is not intended to replace consultation with your medical providers. No site can replace real conversation. Health Promotion offers no endorsement of and assumes no liability for the currency, accuracy, or availability of the information on the sites we link to or the care provided by the resources listed. Health Services staff are available to treat and give medical advice to Brown University students only. If you are not a Brown student, but are in need of medical assistance please call your own health care provider or in case of an emergency, dial 911. Please contact us if you have comments, questions or suggestions.