Relationships and Sex
As a UA student, you may or may not choose to engage in sexual activities. Similarly, you may have friends who choose to either abstain or engage in sexual behaviors. Knowing the differences between sex and sexual assault can be helpful in speaking with your friends who may be engaging in risky behaviors. Your ability to support your friends in making healthier sexual decisions may aid in decreasing sexual assault on campus.
What You Need to Know To Help Your Friends
What is sexual consent?
Consent is when an individual freely agrees to or gives permission to another individual to do something. It means agreeing to an action based on your knowledge of what that action involves, its likely consequences, and having the option of saying no. Gaining consent can be as simple as asking the question “do you want to do this?” and hearing the word “yes.”
How do you know if a person has given consent?
Consent is actively communicated. Consent can be spoken but it can also be given non-verbally.
Non-verbal communication that implies consent for sexual behavior:
- Mutual removal of clothing
- Active participation in the behaviors
- Mutual touching, caressing
- Eye contact
- Responding to touch
- Moving towards their partner
- Putting their partner’s hands in places they want to be touched
Non-verbal communication that suggests you do not have consent:
- Stops responding to their partner’s touch, stops touching their partner
- Holds their arms tight against their body
- Turns their head away from their partner, avoids eye contact
- Hides one’s face
- Pushes the partner away, removes the partner’s hands
- Stiffens muscles, freezes up
- Tries to get up, rolls over
Consent for one act does not give permission for other acts.
If an individual consents to one activity it does not imply consent for other sexual behaviors. Consent needs to be obtained for each act. For example, an individual who is willfully engaging in sexual touching may not want to engage in “going all the way.” This does not mean that individuals need to have long discussions about each act, but questions such as “Is this OK?” or “Can I do this?” or “Do you like this?” can be useful in gaining consent.
Do you have to hear NO to not have consent?
Absolutely not. The lack of communication is not consent. Passivity is not permission. You do not need to hear someone say “No” to understand that you do not have consent to take money from their residence and that if you do you could be accused of theft. Sexual activity is the same. Assume you do not have consent until there has been clear communication that you do have consent. The absence of clear signals means you cannot touch someone else, not that you can.
How about alcohol and consent?
Arizona Revised Statutes clearly define sexual assault as “intentionally or knowingly engaging in sexual intercourse, masturbatory behaviors, or oral sexual contact with anyone who does not consent” and further states, “Sexual assault occurs if the victim is unable to give consent to the sexual act because of drugs or alcohol or any other similar impaired state.”
What this definition means is that if someone has been drinking or using drugs, a high level of caution needs to be observed. Someone who is incapacitated cannot consent to sexual activity. Being “passed out” is clearly incapacitation and engaging in sexual activity with a person who is incapacitated is sexual assault. If someone has been sick due to alcohol or drug use, one can conclude that they are incapacitated by alcohol.
What Can I Do?
- Support clear and assertive communication about sexual boundaries. Help your friends identify their limits and discuss how they can communicate what they are willing and not willing to do.
- Challenge the myth that asking for consent is taboo. Educate your friends about this issue and let them know how important it is to gain and give consent.
- If you notice that a friend continues to “hit on” a person who is communicating through either non-verbal communication or verbal communication that they do not consent to activity – intervene. Ask your friend to speak with you, suggest they stop their pursuit of that individual, enlist the help of others in distracting both parties and try to get them out of the situation.
- If you doubt that your friend is sober enough to offer consent – intervene in their behalf. Take them home, get them to safety, and let them sober up.
- If you believe that a friend of yours is trying to engage in sexual behaviors with a person who is incapacitated –intervene. Let them know this is not OK; this is sexual assault. Help your friend make the appropriate choice to not harm another individual.
- Don’t support comments such as “She/he just needs one more before she/he will say yes,” or “the drunker the better.”
- Do not hesitate or worry about what the person will think the next day if you intervene. It is always better to err on the side of safety in these situations.