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VIII. Consent

Consent is:

  • Informed (knowing)
  • Voluntary (freely given)
  • Active (not passive), meaning that, through the demonstration of clear words or actions, a person has indicated permission to engage in mutually agreed-upon sexual activity 

Consent cannot be obtained by Force. Force includes 1. the use of physical violence, 2. threats, 3. intimidation, and/or 4. coercion.

  1. Physical violence means that a person is exerting control over another person through the use of physical force. Examples of physical violence include hitting, punching, slapping, kicking, pushing, restraining, choking, and brandishing or using any weapon.
  2. Threats are words or actions that would compel a reasonable person to engage in unwanted sexual activity. Examples include threats to harm a person physically, to reveal private information to harm a person’s reputation or cause a person academic or economic harm.
  3. Intimidation is an implied threat that menaces or causes reasonable fear in another person. A person’s size, alone, does not constitute intimidation; however, a person’s size may be used in a way that constitutes intimidation (e.g., blocking access to an exit).
  4. Coercion is the use of an unreasonable amount of pressure to gain sexual access. Coercion is more than an effort to persuade, entice, or attract another person to have sex. When a person makes clear a decision not to participate in a particular form of Sexual Contact or Sexual Intercourse, a decision to stop, or a decision not to go beyond a certain sexual interaction, continued pressure can be coercive. In evaluating whether coercion was used, the College will consider: (i) the nature of the pressure, (ii) the intensity of the pressure, (iii) the degree of isolation of the person being pressured, and (iv) the frequency and duration of the pressure.  To constitute coercion, conduct must result in wrongfully impairing another individual’s freedom of will to participate in sexual activity.

Consent cannot be gained by taking advantage of the incapacitation of another, where the person initiating sexual activity knew or reasonably should have known that the other was incapacitated. Incapacitation means that a person lacks the ability to make informed, rational judgments about whether or not to engage in sexual activity.

A person who is incapacitated is unable, temporarily or permanently, to give Consent because of mental or physical helplessness, sleep, unconsciousness, or lack of awareness that sexual activity is taking place. Mentally helpless means a person is incapable of appraising or controlling one’s own conduct. Physically helpless means a person is physically unable to communicate willingness or unwillingness to an act. A person may be incapacitated as a result of the consumption of alcohol or other drugs, even where voluntary, or due to a temporary or permanent physical or mental health condition.

The College offers the following guidance on Consent and assessing Incapacitation:

A person who wants to engage in a specific sexual activity is responsible for obtaining Consent for that activity. Lack of protest, lack of resistance, and silence and/or passivity do not constitute Consent.  Relying solely on non-verbal communication before or during sexual activity can lead to misunderstanding and may result in a violation of this policy.  It is important to not make assumptions about whether a potential partner is consenting.  In order to avoid confusion or ambiguity, participants are encouraged to talk with one another before engaging in sexual activity.  If confusion or ambiguity arises during sexual activity, participants should stop and clarify a mutual willingness to continue that activity.

Consent to one form of sexual activity does not, by itself, constitute Consent to another form of sexual activity. In addition, Consent to sexual activity on a prior occasion does not, by itself, constitute Consent to future sexual activity.  In cases of prior or ongoing relationships, the manner and nature of prior communications between the parties and the context of the relationship may have a bearing on evaluating the presence of Consent, but any sexual activity must still be mutually agreed-upon.   

Consent may be withdrawn at any time. An individual who seeks to withdraw Consent should communicate, through clear words or actions, a decision to cease the sexual activity. Once Consent is withdrawn, the sexual activity must cease immediately.

In evaluating Consent in cases of alleged incapacitation, the Colleges asks two questions:

  1. Did the person initiating sexual activity know that the other party was incapacitated? and if not,
  2. Should a sober, reasonable person under the same circumstances have known that the other party was incapacitated?

If the answer to either of these questions is “YES,” Consent was absent and the conduct is likely a violation of this policy.

Incapacitation is an extreme form of intoxication. Incapacitation can also be caused by certain medical conditions. A person is not necessarily incapacitated merely as a result of ingesting alcohol or other drugs. The impact of alcohol and other drugs varies from person to person; each individual may have a different level of tolerance or metabolism. One is not expected to be a medical expert in assessing incapacitation. Instead, one must look for the common and obvious warning signs that show that a person may be incapacitated or approaching incapacitation. A person’s level of intoxication can change rapidly, and a person can reach incapacitation within a short time span.  Although every individual may manifest signs of incapacitation differently, typical signs include slurred or incomprehensible speech, unsteady gait, combativeness, emotional volatility, vomiting, or incontinence. A person who is incapacitated may not be able to understand some or all of the following questions: “Do you know where you are?” “Do you know how you got here?” “Do you know what is happening?” “Do you know whom you are with?” 

The introduction of alcohol or other drugs may create ambiguity for all involved as to whether Consent has been sought or given. If one has doubt about either party’s level of intoxication, the safe thing to do is to forego all sexual activity.

Being impaired by alcohol or other drugs is not a defense to any violation of this policy.