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.”

When it comes to consent there are seven things to remember and RESPECT comes first.

The word respect.

R — Respect is the first step to gaining meaningful consent

People have thoughts, feelings, experiences and boundaries that deserve respect and consideration. When we don’t show respect we often can’t appreciate how our words and actions might impact them.

E — Establish consent right from the start and at each step

Consent is an evolving conversation, not an obstacle to get over. This involves clear communication and the ability to understand our own, and each other's, emotional and physical boundaries.

S — Silence or absence of "no" does not equal consent

Not everyone is comfortable with verbally saying no. There are many ways that people communicate verbally and non-verbally to express that they are not comfortable or want something to stop. There are verbal and non-verbal consent cues.

P — Prepare to hear no and stop at any time

Consent can be withdrawn at any time and for any reason.

E — Early on consider signs of incapacitation

A person is incapacitated (slurring, swaying, glassy eyed, stumbling, unresponsive or passed out) 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 to check that you have consent

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

When we make consent a part of our everyday interactions, it becomes easier to ask for and give consent in intimate or sexual interactions. It is important to ask whether a person is comfortable with things like: unmasking, sitting physically close, meeting up in person or touching one another first.

For example, not everyone experiences a hug as a friendly hello or goodbye. If you want to hug 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. Register online or contact Equity and Human Rights to book a Tools for Change workshop.
  • 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.