How do we understand consent?

Consent is not discussed as much as it deserves. I want everyone reading to ask themselves the following questions when it comes to consent. Where is consent taught? Where did I learn the definition of consent? Is it taught the same to everyone? What are the repercussions when someone is not taught about consent? How do we teach consent correctly? For far too many, the first time they were taught consent, it was in the military or college.

 We know people say everyone should understand what consent is, but if that is true, shouldn't everyone have the same values? In basic training, we spend a substantial amount of time, ensuring everyone understands what the Army Values are and what they mean. Is there another time in life where the same amount of attention is paid to those values? Is there ever a time where the same effort for clarity is given for understanding consent? Why not? If the response to these questions is something to the effect of, “How hard is it to know, no means no.” I would like to provide some additional clarity.

 The lack of “No” does not imply that consent is given. We often hear of a flight or fight response, and if we apply this concept, we often think that a victim would either fight their offender or attempt to run. In looking at this thought process, we lack a more common response that should be listed in flight or fight, that response being freeze. Think of when a bank robbery happens; few people fight, a few more flee but the vast majority freeze. It is a typical response to freeze when someone is in fear. Understanding freezing is a specific response allows us to realize that victims of sexual assault might react differently than we would imagine. If they are afraid they might not say anything, they can freeze in fear, and that does NOT give consent.

 Another reason the lack of a “No” should not imply consent is when we think of sexual assault, we imagine a stranger committing the crime. In the majority of sexual assaults, the offender is known to the victim and not a stranger. Understanding this dynamic can affect our perspective on consent. Imagine an all too common scenario where two consenting adults engage in sex and, while doing so, record a video. If, after the relationship is over, one partner threatens to share the videos unless they say yes to having sex, is NOT a way to gain consent. This is one of those times where “no means no” is not enough of an explanation. If you use a threat to get a “Yes,” then it is not freely given. Consent cannot be given while under threat or fear, and that is important to know.

 It is problematic when someone grows up thinking; as long as I don’t get told no, I am good to keep going. When this happens, we can expect them to commit a sexual assault, not because they are bad, but because they don’t understand what is right. We need to ensure others know what consent is, and one of the best ways to do this is through conversation. We can promote a mentality of making sure to ask for consent, and accepting the answer. Instead of, “No means no,” use a “Yes means yes” mentality. It lays the groundwork to make sure there is active communication and allows consent to be given and understood. Consent is about getting a freely given “Yes” and not the absence of a “No,” and the more people that understand this, the better it will be for all.  


By Warren Hunter

JBM-HH Victim Advocate