What is Consent?
Consent is agreeing to an action based on your knowledge of what that action involves, the consequences of that action, and having the option of saying no. In a sexual situation, consent works the same way – before engaging in a specific sexual activity, an agreement must be made between the partners.
The problem some students have with this concept is that some forms of consent are more effective than others. Thus, EFFECTIVE CONSENT IS…
- Unambiguous: Effective consent is when partners demonstrate a clear and mutual understanding of exactly what they are consenting to and permit that activity to happen
- Freely given: Consent cannot be coerced or gained by trickery, intimidation, threats or acts of violence. Any form of sexual activity attempted or committed by a student at any component within the University of Houston System (“UHS”) with another without their consent is sexual assault, a possible violation of, and perhaps the law
- Active: A person can give consent and then change his or her mind. Therefore, the best practice would be that you ask your partner for consent at every stage of the sexual experience; if you want to move to the next level of sexual intimacy, ask your partner if that’s what he or she wants to do. If you do not ask for consent, you are at risk of doing something the other person does not want you to do. You might disrespect and/or hurt someone. Worse yet, you might put yourself at risk of breaking the policy or the law by committing a sexual assault
- Unassuming: Consent cannot be implied or assumed, meaning, someone’s silence does not equal consent or a “YES!” Moreover, someone “freezing” – or failing to fight to keep the person from performing an unwanted sexual act is also not consent. To make sure you and your partner are safe, make sure you don’t assume anything and get the “YES!” before you make your move.
What is NOT effective consent?
Look at it this way: If effective consent is a “YES – we can do this!” then anything short of that is ineffective and should be treated as a “NO.” For instance, just because your partner went on a date with you, flirted with you for hours, said you were cute several times in front of your friends, and agreed to go with you to your apartment at 3:00 am does not mean that they have agreed to have sex with you. Or even if they had agreed to sleep in the same bed as you, or engage in a specific sexual act with you, that does not mean that they have agreed to any sexual activity beyond that. Maybe they want to, maybe they don’t. But unless they tell you what they are consenting to, you don’t know for sure. And if you do not know for sure, you should stop until you do.
What is the best way to get effective consent?
The best way to get effective consent is to eliminate any mystery, confusion, or misinterpretation of your partner’s body language or communication by simply asking what she or he would like to do with you. In other words, get the “YES!” before you engage in any sexual activity that has not yet been agreed to
Failure to obtain effective consent not only shows a lack of respect for your partner and your fellow UHS students, but it also greatly increases the risk of sexual assault. Nobody wants that.
Are there circumstances when a person cannot give effective consent?
Circumstances in which a person CANNOT give effective consent (no matter what they might verbalize):
- When coercion, trickery, intimidation, threats or acts of violence are used
- The person is asleep or unaware that a sexual assault is occurring
- The person does not have the legal capacity to consent (such as being underage)
- The person is “out of it” or incapacitated due to the influence of drugs, alcohol, or medication.
How do you know if the person you are with has given their consent?
You know that your partner has given his or her consent because they will communicate that to you. Often, the problem is that consent to sexual activity can be communicated in a variety of ways with some ways being more effective than others. Therefore, as potentially awkward as it may seem, talking about the sexual activity before you engage in it, or getting the “YES” before you get the “NO,” is the most effective way of knowing that your partner has given his or her consent
By the way, if someone is silent, looks uncomfortable, or “freezes,” please do not assume that you have consent because they have not told you “NO,” or pushed you away. Always remember that while the burden of consent is shared, meaning you and your partner have to agree to engage in a specific sexual activity, you have the responsibility of fully knowing if your advances are wanted. For instance, while being aware of body language in general might help you decipher if your partner is consenting and feeling comfortable, or not consenting and feeling uncomfortable, it is always best to stop and ask so that you know for sure that everything is o.k.
You may feel that asking for consent is awkward or a mood killer. But it doesn’t have to be. It can be as simple as asking, “Can I kiss you?” If anything, by asking for a kiss, instead of taking one and possibly making him or her uncomfortable (and assaulting them by the way), you have really turned up the mood. Think about it: How would it make you feel if someone told you “Yes – you can kiss me” versus your winging it, hoping that your partner actually does want to engage in that specific sexual activity or not.
Try it for yourself – practice these creative ways of obtaining consent:
- I really want to hug / kiss / …… you. Can I? or What do you want to do with me?
- You posted/sent me a text/email earlier saying you wanted to hug/kiss …… me. Do you want to do that now?
- I really enjoyed doing ….. with you. Do you want to……with me again?
- Do you like it when I do this? What don’t you like? What would you like me to do for you?
- Is it o.k. if I take off my/your shirt / top / bra / pants?
- It makes me hot when you kiss / touch / ….. me there. What makes you hot?
- Have you ever …. ? Would you like to try it with me?
- Is there anything you don’t want to do?
- Do you want to go further?
- Are you comfortable?
- Do you want to stop?
Slowing Things Down
Taking your time, making sure you are both comfortable, and talking about how far you want to go will make the time you spend together a lot more satisfying and enjoyable for both of you. Sometimes things move very quickly. Below are some things you can say to slow things down if you feel that things are moving too quickly:
- Can we just hang out or kick it tonight? I am not sure I am ready for this yet
- I don’t want to go any further than kissing, hugging, touching, etc.
- I want to chill or stay like this for a while
- I want to slow down
It can be uncomfortable to slow down or stop when you are in the middle of things, but no matter how excited you are, if your partner asks you to stop – ALWAYS respect that and STOP! You or your partner have the right to stop at any time – even if you or your partner agreed to the sexual activity earlier. Below are some things you can say or do if you want to stop:
- Say “No!”
- Say “Stop!”
- In a situation where the other person isn’t listening to you and you feel unsafe: 1) you could make a scene then quickly move to safety; 2) say “I need to go to the bathroom/toilet”; or 3) pretend you are going to vomit – It’s amazing how quickly someone moves away from you if they think you are going to be sick.
What does no mean really?
“No” means it’s time to stop:
- It doesn’t mean “slow down.”
- It doesn’t mean “persuade or convince me”
- It doesn’t mean “Carry on” or “keep trying until I give in”
- It doesn’t mean “Yes, until I scream or start crying or hit you”
- “I’m not interested” means “No.”
- “Leave me alone” means “No.”
- “Don’t touch/call/text/email/friend or poke me on Facebook or any other social media” means “No.”
- “I’m not sure if I’m ready” means “No.”
- “I don’t know if I want to” means “No.”
- “I think I’ve had too much to drink” means “No.”
- “I don’t want to get AIDS” means “No.”
- “I’m scared” means “No.”
- “Not now” means “No.”
How to say “No”
Don’t assume your partner knows you so well that they just know what you want or don’t want. In other words, don’t assume that your partner will “get the message” without your having to say what you are feeling. The best way for your partner to know how you feel, how far you want to go, or for them to stop is for you to tell that person. If you want to stop, say “No.”
Remember, you always have the right to say no and you can say it any way you want to – but the most effective way to say it is like you mean it so that you don’t give mixed messages. Say “NO!” then back up your words with your body language and if you are uncertain about what you want, ask your partner to stop until you are certain. Here are some ways to do that:
- This is not going to happen. Please respect my decision.
- I don’t want to have sex right now
- I am not comfortable with you touching me – stop
- I am not sure where this is going – but I want us to talk about our expectations
- I appreciate you inviting me over, or offering to walk me home. I just want to be clear that this does not mean I am going to have sex with you
If you like him/her:
- I like you a lot, but I am not ready for a sexual relationship
- I want to get to know you better before I consider sex. How about we go to a movie?
Be clear about your limits:
- You may agree to have some forms of sexual activity but not others. If the person tries to go further than you agreed to, firmly say “STOP”. Do not apologize
Remember it’s okay to change your mind:
- I am no longer comfortable doing this. Please stop
Respond assertively to guilt tactics or pressure:
- I have already told you that I am not interested in having sex. You are not listening to me / respecting me
- Stop trying to convince me, I am not going to change my mind
- Whether I like / love you is not the issue
When he/she won’t stop after you have said “No”:
- STOP! (raise your voice – shout if you need to). I am leaving / I want you to leave!
When is it OK to say no?
It’s ALWAYS OK to say no.
- You may feel you’re not ready for sex in your relationship
- You may have strong beliefs about sex before marriage
- You may feel that you want him, or her, as a friend – but not as a sexual partner
- You may feel attracted to your partner, but you want to go slow
- Your partner has not been open or honest about their HIV and/or STD status
- You may have agreed to sex with your partner – but now you feel differently
You should never feel you have to give consent to anyone for any reason.
What if asking for consent kills the mood?
In sexual situations, making someone feel safe and respected is always the right thing to do. But, if the mood is ruined because you asked a question (“Can I kiss you?”) it is safe to say that the mood probably wasn’t so hot to begin with. Just think about how ruined the mood would be if your partner felt uncomfortable, unsafe, and/or disrespected and you didn’t notice or care enough to ask why. Moreover, think about how both of your lives would be impacted if you sexually assaulted your partner. UHS students ask because UHS students get consent.
What if someone is out of it?
Having sex with someone while they are drunk or high (“out of it”) is a very bad idea. Since drugs and alcohol can affect a person’s ability to make decisions, including whether or not they want to engage in a sexual activity, deciding to have sex with a person who is out of it subjects you both to tremendous risk. In fact, a majority of the sexual assaults experienced by college students occur in situations involving the consumption of drugs and/or alcohol by the victim, the assailant, or both.
What if the person you are with is too out of it to give consent?
If you think that the person you want to be intimidate with is too out of it to give consent because of drugs and/or alcohol, you should not engage in a sexual activity with that person because they may be incapacitated. If you do, you run the risk of sexually assaulting that person. That would be awful for the both of you.
What if you are out of it while you’re making a move?
Alcohol or other drugs can lower inhibitions and create an atmosphere of confusion over whether consent is freely and effectively given. However, an individual who performs sex acts without the permission of the other person most often cannot claim to be too drunk or high to know what he or she was doing. If you are too out of it, you should not engage in any sexual activity because being intoxicated or high is never an excuse for engaging in sexual misconduct.
What if you see a friend who is out of it?
If you see a friend who is out of it and is being intimate with someone, you should safely intervene by pulling he or she aside to make sure everybody is safe. If it’s the opposite situation, and your friend is trying to engage in a sexual encounter with someone who is out if it, you should try to safely pull them aside and stop them from getting themselves into trouble. That’s what UHS students do for other UHS students – we care enough to intervene.
What if the aggressor isn’t a stranger?
Most people think of sexual assault in terms of some strange creepy guy breaking into dorm rooms late at night, but this is not usually the case in a college setting. Unfortunately, many of the sexual assaults that occur on college campuses occur between people who know each other. In fact, most of sexual assault cases involving university women are perpetrated by people they know: boyfriends, girlfriends, exes, ex-boyfriends, friends, roommates, etc. Some students may not realize that an unwanted sexual activity committed by someone they know, sometimes referred to as acquaintance or non-stranger rape, is a form of sexual misconduct and is prohibited at UH. Whether or not to report this violation may be a difficult decision for you. This is something that UHS students understand. So here are some options for you to consider:
- You can report it. We encourage you to get help. Go to the resources tab to find help.
- You can get counseling. You may not want to report the assault but you may want to talk to someone about what happened to you. There are counselors on and off campus that can assist you. You can find a list under the resources tab on this site.
- You can weigh your options. There is a lot of information available on the internet regarding sexual assault and surviving one. We have gathered some information under the resources tab..
What if the aggressor is someone you’re dating?
Even in an intimate relationship, consent is still needed to engage in a sexual activity. In other words, being in a dating relationship does not mean that the rules of consent have changed and can now be assumed or implied. This is not the case at all. Instead, intimate relationships require that you both share the responsibility in making the relationship safe, healthy and fulfilling.
When it is not, the following example could occur:
My boyfriend was over the other night, and he was a little drunk. I allowed him to sleep in bed with me but I did not want to do it. But he kept pushing me for sex, even when I said “no.” The next thing I know, he gets on top of me and forces himself inside of me. I mean, I just froze, like from shock, but I didn’t scream or fight back – I couldn’t move. I’m not sure if I was raped because I didn’t fight back but he shouldn’t have done that. He says he couldn’t help it because he was drunk… he says he can’t remember what he did. Unfortunately, I do.
This is an example of a sexual assault. The victim clearly did not provide consent to a sexual activity and was denied his or her (this could be a same-sex sexual assault) right to decide if sex would happen that night. Consent requires activity or behavior that shows clearly that the sexual activity is agreeable – and saying “NO” certainly made it clear that she had not consented!
Also – the fact that she “froze” – or held still – does not mean she consented. She had already indicated that she did not want sex, and his or her failing to fight back or resist does not mean she changed his or her mind.
Finally, the boyfriend’s use of alcohol does not excuse his behavior. He might not have done the same thing if he was sober, but he is responsible for what he did while he was drunk.
What if your friend is aggressively approaching someone?
If you notice that your friend is the aggressor in a sexual situation, or that the person may not be consenting to the activity that your friend is proposing, you need to step up, and safely intervene. Now, safely intervening means just that so don’t do anything to get yourself or anyone else physically hurt. Safely intervening could mean using positive peer pressure to help stop abusive behaviors that may lead to a sexual assault. For example, if you overhear someone talk about taking advantage of a partner sexually, let the person know how uncool and wrong you think that is. Since silence can be mistaken for approval, do not remain silent when you hear stuff like that. And when you notice behavior like that taking place, assess the situation and safely do what you need to deescalate it. If the situation becomes unsafe for anyone, call the police. If it’s a situation where you and maybe your friends (or her friends) can safely interrupt or distract your friend, then do that. Consider these examples of safe interruptions or interventions:
- What are you doing? C’mon man, were better than that.
- You must really like her. Why don’t you get her number and call her tomorrow when she has sobered up some? I bet she would like that.
- Hey, come with me to the (store, bathroom, outside) for a second. I need to talk to you
- Dude, why are you still texting her? You’re probably creeping her out. I’d give her some space
- Man, this party is dead. I heard everyone is at… Let’s go there
- Just remember, when you interrupt you’re friend’s possibly unwanted sexual activity, he or she be oblivious that his or her actions were putting him and her at risk and may not want to stop. So…
- Approach your friend as a friend – help him or her understand that you’re watching out for them
- Do not be antagonistic or rude or violent
- Recruit help if necessary
- Keep yourself safe
- If things get out of hand or become unsafe, contact the police
What if I am going out?
As UHS students, we enjoy having a good time. However, we also realize that it's just smart to have a plan before we go out. Here are some ideas for you to consider for your plan for the evening
Go to parties or clubs with friends you trust. While part of the fun in going out is meeting new people, the people you go out with should be people you know and feel the safe with.
These folks are your friends, and they know that if the situation isn’t right for you, your feelings should be taken seriously. In fact, you and your friends should plan how, as a group, everyone will look out for each other and get home safely
Leave the club or party with the people you really know. Don’t leave the party by yourself or with someone you don’t know very well. You knew this might happen and that’s why you planned for it. Stick to your plan
If you are of LEGAL age and you plan on drinking alcohol… you need to consider the following:
- Before you go out, eat a full meal. Just make sure that the meal contains a lot of protein. Protein slows down the absorption of alcohol
- Appoint a “designated sober person.” This person is the one friend who won’t drink and who will look out for the group by checking on them regularly
- Set a limit for your drinking and stick to it
- Pace yourself and alternate your drinks with water. Depending on your size and other factors, as a guide you can assume that it takes about an hour to process each alcoholic drink
- Stick to one type of alcohol. Switching between beer, alcohol, and wine might make you sick. It’s hard to enjoy yourself if you are sick
- Avoid drinking games. Needless to say, a drinking game should not be in your plan at a club or a party.
- Watch out for your drink. Realizing how enticing free drinks may be to some, know that it is a risk to accept drinks from people you don’t know. But if you do, at least consider the following:
- If someone offers you a drink from the bar, accompany the person to the bar to order your drink, watch the drink being poured, and carry the drink yourself
- Don’t leave your drink unattended while talking, dancing, using the restroom, or making a phone call. If you realize your drink has been left unattended, discard it
- Don’t drink beverages that you did not open yourself
- Don’t share or exchange drinks with anyone
- Don’t take a drink from a punch bowl or a container that is being passed around
- Don’t drink anything that has an unusual taste or appearance (e.g., salty taste, excessive foam, unexplained residue)
- Don’t eat the fruit in a drink
Trust your “gut” feelings. If you start to feel uncomfortable or unsafe in a situation, listen to your feelings and act on them. Get yourself out of the situation as soon as possible
Don’t be afraid to ask for help or “make a scene” if you feel threatened. If you are being pressured or made to feel unsafe in anyway, let the other person (and more importantly your friends) know how you feel and get out of the situation (in the safest way possible), even if it’s awkward and even if you embarrass the other person or hurt his or her feelings
What if I am hosting a party?
If you or your organization hosts a party, please be responsible and plan for your guests’ safety. You can do that by doing the following:
- Have fun but have limits. Remember, your actions could have disastrous consequences on your life or the lives of your guests. Be smart.
- Close doors to bedrooms and private areas to limit theft and other activities that might put your guest in danger
- Provide plenty of food and nonalcoholic drinks (mocktails). Avoid providing too many salty foods so people do not drink more because the salt made them thirsty
- Don’t push alcoholic drinks on anyone and if your guests do drink keep the guests and the drinks inside of the residence
- Have sober monitors to check ID’s and watch your guests to make sure they are safe. If you see someone who could be in trouble, help them. That’s what UHS students do
- Transportation a call. Remember as a party host, you are responsible for the actions of your guests who leave your party intoxicated
- Stop serving alcohol 90 minutes before the party ends. This will give your guest time to sober up
- Make sure that nobody, even you, is pressured to do things that he or she does not want to do. Don’t participate in violent or criminal acts or get involved in any activity that makes you feel uncomfortable
- Stop serving alcohol to anyone who seems out of it or is acting in an aggressive manner
- Make sure your guests get home safely! Plan to have designated drivers available or give local
- Don’t ever “join in” or “go along” with people who are abusing another person. And if you see that going on at your party, stop it. If you can safely intervene, do so. If not, call the cops
What if I am the victim of sexual misconduct?
If you are a victim of sexual misconduct, you are encouraged to report what happened to you. You can report it to a variety of on and off campus resources. What is important is that you report it to anyone you feel comfortable disclosing this information to. Remember you can report this anonymously or confidentially Go to the report tab for more information about your options and the process. If you are ready to report, click go the resources page and choose the most comfortable reporting resources for you.
We know reporting sexual misconduct is a hard thing for many people, especially if it involves someone you know. Some students who are victims of sexual misconduct fear reporting it because they are afraid that no one will believe them or that they did something to cause it or that they are worried about the impact the report will have on their friends, family, and future. As students, we understand that reporting sexual misconduct takes courage, support, and the willingness to go public with a very private experience. That is not easy and is not always the best choice for everyone. You may not want to do this and that is ok. This decision is entirely yours.
However, as UHS students, your safety is important to us and by reporting sexual violence, it not only allows UHS to help reduce the risk of this ever happening to you again, but it also increases the safety of other students.
Just know we support you and respect whatever decision you make
What if I witnessed or have information regarding sexual misconduct of a fellow student?
You should report it. If you have information that a student has been a victim of sexual misconduct, please contact your campus Title IX Coordinator to report it.