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A Conversation About Consent

What it is. What it isn’t, and why we need to get clear on this topic.

Consent Defined

According to Webster’s 1828 Dictionary – Consent is an agreement of the mind. He further states, “We generally use this word in cases where power, rights, and claims are concerned. We give consent when we yield that which we have a right to withhold; but we do not give consent to a mere opinion, or abstract proposition.”

Consent as a verb

Literally, to think with another. Hence, to agree or accord. More generally, to agree in mind and will; to yield to what one has the power, the right, or the disposition to withhold, or refuse to grant.

Consent in the DV Field

In the domestic abuse context, we understand consent to be a form of communication. Therefore, it must be given by someone capable of doing so. It must be freely given, without duress of any kind or type. It must be revocable at any time as well. Thus, there cannot be a stable state, or one-time fits all type of consent. Any compelling of an act, without agreement would be compelled coercive control© – not consent.

The French Fry Definition

Have you seen the French fry graphic discussing consent? I created a Center for Peace version for this blog post. I’m still on the fence about this graphic as this is such a serious issue that I do not want to mock.

The ideas are worth a discussion.

Freely given – This declares there is no coercion of any kind. It declares that no means no. Period. All statements of no or stop or don’t must be respected. There is no option for negotiation.

Reversible – Similar to freely given, there is a retraction clause that is non-negotiable. 

Informed – This refers to clarity. There should never be vagueness, bait and switch or other attempted covers to the other’s intention. Clearly stated is non-negotiable.

Enthusiastic- You’ve probably heard the reference to the “enthusiastic yes” as a definition for consent. This may add a bit of pressure to the moment. Maybe agreement is occurring, and consent given, but the expected enthusiasm isn’t present. Does this negate the consent if willingness and agreement are present?

Specific – Like informed, this also refers to clarity with zero ambiguity.

Consent is Not Just Sex Specific

The use of the term “consent” is not just sex specific. It is applicable to any human interaction. Consent, as stated above by Webster, is an agreement. Thus, consent is the basis of mutual agreement between parties. An activity, conversation, interaction, touch, etc., all involve types of consented negotiations.

What it is not

Regardless of the interaction, consent would never sound like the following.

“I was tricked and pressured to agree.”

“I didn’t want to lose my job.”

“He scared me. I was afraid of his anger.”

“I was not coherent (passed out).”

“He said I liked______.”

“You always want to_______, you just need to be convinced.”

“You didn’t say no or stop me.”

“She said she was anxious, so he offered her alcohol (or some substance).”

While each of these statements can be applied to a sexual activity, they are all similar statements that could be said in any interaction. Again, it is important to remember that consent is not just a term used for sexual activities.

A Few Other Methods to Determine Consent

People have been very clever in their attempts to make it clear there needs to be consent – especially for sexual contact.

The “Consent Spectrum” is one such device. In this it is understood as a spectrum of these five options.

  1. Yes, and…
  2. Yes, but…
  3. Maybe
  4. No, but…
  5. No, and…

In the first two options, more communication is needed to complete the negotiation. The last two are solid no’s. This means there can be no further discussion. No means the end of the conversation.

The other option is the acronym CLEAR. Which means,

  C – communication

  L – limited

  E – enthusiastic

  A – active

  R – reversible

This one is like the acronym outlined above. The idea is that both parties are in a continual evaluation process and will respect each other’s autonomy and authority to speak for themselves without pressuring the other party.

All Human Interaction is Social Interaction

Since every interaction we have whether public or private is social – all human interaction is social interaction. We are all social beings; thus, we have a need for one another. More importantly, we need safety with and among one another.

The cost of our social interactions is very high. We can injure each other badly when we are not careful with the interactions we have. Carelessness can result in more than difficulty in our interactions – it can be abusive.

People Need Other People

I hear the statement quite frequently, “I don’t need him/her/them.”  This is one of the most short-sided and misdirected statements. One that shows a lack of understanding of our human neurobiology. We are hardwired to a human society system. 

We actually regulate one another’s nervous systems as part of our social interactions — which is a great social need. While wrong, it makes sense to make statements of this nature when there has been incredible injury sustained at the hand of another human being.

What people do not need, and what is extremely costly to our neurobiology is abuse. This is the reason consent is such a critical discussion topic. We are surrounded by a type of casual aggression in society. Verbal, physical, emotional cruelty is at an all-time high. 

Moral relativism is one of the greatest contributors to a lack of respect for human consent. Regardless of gender or condition, if two or more parties are involved in something requiring consent or agreement, any compelling action without total agreement would be an abuse of power-over the others.

Kindness, Respect and Dignity

Three individual human virtues we offer one another should not be mistaken for consent. This is one area that can be quite difficult for children to understand. Be clear and open when teaching this concept to children. 

“Just be nice to each other” has become a way for those who are not nice people to get away with committing wrongs and abusive behaviors. 

Being nice and speaking with respect are two different concepts that can be taught clearly to children. We do not have to continue in the social aggressiveness that we often hear on social media platforms. Saying “no” is not unkind speech. It is a personal statement of no agreement or consent. One might also say it is a boundary.

Standing in our own Agentic Authority” (Coach Joi)

This is a phrase said all the time at Center for Peace. It is a powerful statement that many of us need to rehearse often so that we teach other people how to respect us. The way we respect ourselves is key to this process. It is also key to navigating situations where we feel our agency is being compromised by a compelled force to consent. 

Every human being has been given their own agency and authority to act for themselves. Abusers attempt to override this right. At Center for Peace, our mission is to help women who are not respected as human beings, learn to re-engage their agentic voice.

If you need support, please schedule a session with one of our coaches or join our group meetings.

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