Consent Is Not Optional

Last week, I was sent yet another “timely warning” email from GMU Police about sexual assaults that happened on campus. They are required to report to students whenever something like this is under investigation; it turns my stomach that it’s necessary, but it’s good to be aware of it.

This time was slightly different. More details were given about the two assaults and below that several bullet points were given on the affirmative model of consent and available resources for those who have been victimized or fear they might be at risk.

I applaud GMU Police for this concise and comprehensive list (taken directly from the email):

  • Always seek verbal, sober, and clear consent before a sexual act. Immediately stop sexual advances if the other person indicates no interest or if they say “no.” Consent to one sexual act does not imply consent to another. The absence of “no” does not mean “yes.”
  • If you’re not sure that you’re getting a clear, enthusiastic “yes” from your partner, it is your responsibility to ask.
  • You cannot assume that you have consent because someone is not physically resisting or verbally refusing sexual contact.
  • Consent is not to be inferred from silence, passivity, or a lack of resistance.
  • Unreasonably pressuring or coercing someone into engaging in sexual activity is sexual assault.
  • If you witness a situation that appears unsafe or makes you uncomfortable, intervene if it’s safe to do so, elicit help from a friend, or go to a safe area and call for help.
  • Seek medical help immediately if a friend starts to exhibit symptoms of dizziness and/or nausea, memory loss, breathing or motion difficulties, or is acting disproportionately intoxicated relative to the amount of alcohol ingested.

I repost it here as a reminder for myself and others that consent is enthusiastic, mutual, specific, and ongoing.

The same consent applies to the setting of boundaries and limits in the context of a social interaction or a scene. I have had several encounters lately with boundary-pushers who operate on the fringes of consent.

I can no longer keep my silence.

If I say to you, “I would rather not have you touching my boobs,” that does not mean that I want you to convince me to accept that behavior, over time. That is an indication of no interest.

If I go on to tell you that my boobs are sore – for whatever reason – and again that I don’t want them to be touched, that is further support of my lack of interest in having your hand down my shirt while we’re cuddled up together.

If you violate that boundary, especially after I have given my reasons for not wanting it crossed (which I am not required to do), I may not resist you.

I may feel resigned to the situation – unable to escape, to fight, to speak up for myself – and I may keep silent in the interest of my personal safety. This is not a healthy pattern. I often find myself making excuses for others who overstep boundaries to prevent some level of perceived danger: “He’s just grabbing my boobs, which doesn’t even hurt, so maybe it will keep him busy long enough for me to find a way out of here, without making him feel rejected or angry.” This rationalization comes from multiple previous assaults and boundary violations, which have not been fully resolved. The healing process takes time.

I have tolerated this kind of behavior for much too long. It is not healthy for me.

I am done making excuses for others – especially drunken examples of boundary violators. I have been to too many swinger and kink parties where I do not feel safe because an intoxicated person:

  • Starts kissing me without asking first
  • Literally jumps on me and starts humping me, mostly naked, or
  • Surprises me by lifting me up and carrying me off somewhere

These are all real examples. In future, I may feel the need to preemptively say “no” to any physical contact from anyone who is obviously intoxicated or anyone who has not respected my boundaries – until such time that sober negotiations happen or matters are resolved.

As someone who has survived assault, I am not okay with this pervasive lack of consistency in a community that supports the affirmative, enthusiastic model of consent. It contributes a lot of anxiety to my life that I could happily do without.

I need to be a better advocate for myself and do my best to set an example for others.

Consent is not optional – consent is the foundation of what we do. Consent is sexy.

I can’t tell you enough how awesome it is when people ask if it is okay to have a hug, when I am already cuddled up to another person, or how refreshing it is when someone takes the time to be courteous of personal space and boundaries, especially at over-saturated parties and public events. It turns me on because it has become the exception, not the rule, at most of the events I have attended recently.

And I shouldn’t be able to say that.

From now on, I expect that I may be asking more questions and becoming more directly involved in practicing my own language of consent.

I also expect that I will not be alone on the journey toward a better practice of consent – for my current and future partners reading this, I hope this offers some insight into these situations and how they can be better resolved, moving forward.