The laws about consent vary by state and situation, so it's important to know what consent looks like in real life. It's also important to know how consent is defined under the university's Sexual Misconduct Policy.
What is consent?
Consent is an agreement between participants to engage in sexual activity. There are many ways to give consent, and some of those are discussed below.
Utah law explains that in the following circumstances, consent is NOT present:
- The victim expresses lack of consent through words or conduct;
- The perpetrator overcomes the victim through physical force, violence, concealment, or the element of surprise;
- The perpetrator threatens retaliation through physical force, kidnapping, or extortion;
- The victim is unconscious, unaware, or physically unable to resist.
BYU's Sexual Misconduct Policy explains consent in this way:
Consent is a voluntary agreement to engage in sexual activity and is determined by all the relevant facts and circumstances. Consent cannot be given by someone who is incapacitated for any reason (i.e., because of the victim’s age, disability, unconsciousness, or use of drugs or alcohol). Additionally, consent cannot be implied by silence, the absence of resistance, or past consent with the same or another person. Even if a person has given his or her consent to engage in sexual activity, consent to engage in further sexual activity can be withdrawn at any time. Consent is invalid where it is given under coercion, force, or threats.
How does consent work in real life?
When you’re engaging in intimate activity, the most important part of consent is communication. And, as mentioned above, consent needs to happen every time and in every instance. Giving consent for one activity, one time, does not mean giving consent for increased or recurring sexual contact. For example, agreeing to kiss someone doesn’t give that person permission to remove your clothes.
How do I know if I have consent/gave consent?
When assessing whether consent existed for sexual activity, it's important to look for the presence of clear, knowing, and voluntary words or actions that give permission for specific behaviors. BYU prohibits sexual contact with a person who is incapacitated by alcohol, drugs, or another condition, when that incapacitation is known or should have been known. In general, incapacitation is defined as a state where individuals cannot make rational, reasonable decisions because they lack the capacity to give knowing consent. It is always wise to get verbal consent when engaging in intimate activity -- communication in consent is key!
Can someone change their mind after giving consent?
Yes. It's important to remember that consent can be withdrawn at any time. Clearly communicate with your partner that you are no longer comfortable with this activity and wish to stop. The best way to ensure both parties are comfortable with any sexual activity is to talk about it.
What are some positive examples of consent?
- Communicating when you change the type or degree of intimate activity with phrases like “Is this OK?”
- Explicitly agreeing to certain activities, either by saying “yes” or another affirmative statement, like “I’m open to trying”
- Using clear physical cues to let the other person know you’re comfortable taking things to the next level
What are some examples where consent is not present?
- Refusing to acknowledge when someone says “no”
- Assuming that wearing certain clothes, flirting, or kissing is an invitation for anything more
- Someone being under the legal age of consent, as defined by the state
- Someone being incapacitated because of drugs or alcohol
- Pressuring someone into sexual activity by using fear or intimidation
- Assuming you have permission to engage in intimate behavior because you’ve done it in the past
Adapted from information provided by the Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network (RAINN)