What is consent?

Lips talking.
Consent. It starts with a conversation.

Respecting people’s boundaries and using consent in our daily lives is the best way to prevent sexualized violence. This involves not only understanding what the word consent means, but how to integrate it into all aspects of our everyday lives.

What to remember when it comes to consent

At UVic, consent is defined as “the voluntary agreement to engage in a contact or sexual activity and to continue to engage in the contact or activity. Consent means that all persons involved demonstrate, through words or actions that they freely and mutually agree to participate in a contact or activity.” The primary thing to remember is that when it comes to consent, RESPECT comes first.

The word respect.

R — Respect

is the first step to gaining meaningful consent. When we don’t respect that the person we are interacting with is a person – with thoughts, feelings, emotions, and histories – we often can’t appreciate how our words and actions might impact them.

E — Establish

consent at the outset and at each step along the way. This involves clear communication and the ability to understand our own, and each other's, emotional and physical boundaries. Keep in mind that consent is not an obstacle to get over, but an evolving conversation.

S — Silence

or the absence of ‘no’ does not equal consent. Never assume you have consent.

P — Prepare

to hear no (and stop), because consent can be withdrawn at any time, for any reason.

E — Early on

consider whether you or the other person is incapacitated. Incapacitated people cannot give consent.

C — Consider power

There is no consent where there is an abuse of power. This includes coercion, force, threats, or intimidation towards any person or where there is fraud or withholding of critical information that could affect a person’s decision to consent.

T — Take responsibility

Asking for consent is the responsibility of the initiator. For example, if you want to have physical and/or sexual contact with another person, it is your responsibility to ask first. This includes sending sexually explicit photos of yourself.

Consent as an everyday practice

To make it easier to ask for and give consent in intimate or sexual interactions, it is important to establish and practice consent in all our everyday interpersonal interactions. For example, not everyone experiences a hug as a friendly welcome or goodbye. In order to build a culture of consent, it is important to ask whether we can touch one another first. If you want to touch someone, just ask! “Hey, can I give you a hug?” Similarly, if you are interested in someone and you want to send them a sexy picture of yourself, you should check in and ask first. For example, "do you want to see a picture of me getting out of the shower?" Remember, silence, or the absence of no does not equal consent.  You need a clear "yes" before sending.

Keep in mind that there are power dynamics in our relationships with others that can make it hard for some people to freely consent and clearly say “yes” or “no”. We all need to be sensitive to non-verbal body language (e.g., moving away from a touch or embrace) or indirect communication (e.g., changing the subject or not answering directly). Being aware of all the ways people communicate their boundaries is the responsibility of the person wanting the physical and/or more intimate interaction. 

Consent training

There are several different workshops available online and in person that cover the topic of consent and provide skills for students, staff, and faculty. Find out more about each below:

  • Tools for Change: a student-facing workshop offered by Equity and Human Rights and the Office of Student Life. This is currently available as a 30-minute online training program. In person training is not currently available.
  • Understanding Consent Culture: a program for students, staff, and faculty offered by the Anti-Violence Project (AVP). Contact AVP for current online options.
  • Bringing in the Bystander: a student-facing workshop offered by the Office of Student Life
  • Prevent and Respond to Sexualized Violence at UVic: Training for Staff and Faculty: is currently offered as a webinar by Equity and Human Rights.  for more information.
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