The problems emerge when people make consent more complicated than it is. You ask permission, they say ‘yes’, and that’s consent. But people have asked ‘What if…’ or ‘How about…’ and blurred the lines for some people. So, here’s a few things that are NOT consent:
What if they didn’t say no?
That’s not consent! A famous slogan that originated several years ago is ‘No means no!’ It’s completely true; if someone says ‘no’, it means ‘no’ with no ifs or buts about it. But it’s very important to understand that even if they don’t say ‘no’, that’s not the same as saying ‘yes’.
What if it’s not a big deal?
It’s always a big deal. It doesn’t matter what you want to do, it’s a big enough deal that you should ask. Yes, even to give them a hug.
How about if they say yes when they’re drunk?
That’s not consent. When people aren’t able to think clearly for any reason, whether that’s being drunk or something else, you can’t be sure they mean what they say. Even if they seem sure they mean ‘yes’ at the time, when they sober up they might realise they didn’t. A person has to be able to think clearly to say ‘yes’ meaningfully.
But they did say yes! Eventually.
This is a BIG no-no. If you’ve tried to make them change their mind, or pushed them to answer yes, or made them feel bad or scared about saying no, then you haven’t got consent. You can’t manipulate their answer. Consent is consent only if they really mean it, not if they said it under pressure.
And then, there’s people who are afraid of asking. Lots of people are conditioned to think that asking for things is greedy. Even worse, some people think, is when you ask someone something and they say no. Being told no can embarrass and shame people, and so they avoid asking, and they feel less bad than if they’d asked. It’s an unfortunate situation because it’s backwards! Asking is always better than not asking! If you ask someone something and they say ‘no’, and you accept that, you’ve done nothing wrong at all. There’s no reason to be ashamed about it. There’s nothing wrong with asking for permission. It’s when you don’t get permission that there’s a problem.
Phew, that was pretty heavy stuff, but it’s important. As always, if you want to ask or say anything about it, get in touch on Facebook and Twitter. Now I don’t know about you, but I could use a cup of tea...