The People’s Lawyer

What consent is and does not look like

On Behalf of | Dec 1, 2023 | Criminal Defense

In the realm of intimate relationships, seeking consent is most important. It is not just about saying yes to engaging in sexual activity but is an ongoing agreement to respect each other’s boundaries. Having said that, it can become hazy at times. To have healthier sexual relationships, it helps to know what consent is and is not.

Consent is an explicit agreement

There are many ways to define consent, but essentially, it is an understanding between people who are engaging in sexual relations. A person can give their agreement verbally, physically, or emotionally, but they must do so freely and without being forced.

It must be stressed that the absence of a “no” does not imply consent, but a clear, resounding “yes” does. With consent, people can change their minds in the middle of an act, and that is okay. If one party seems unsure, the other should not go further.

Understanding what consent is not

A healthy sexual relationship is built on trust and mutual respect. Here are some scenarios that undermine consent:

Pressuring someone to say yes

Pressuring a person into saying yes against their will is coercion. If someone agrees to sexual activity due to intimidation or threats, that also does not count as consent. Coercion is not always as obvious as physical threats and is sometimes as subtle as emotional blackmail.

Guilting or obligating a person to perform a sexual act can be coercion. Meanwhile, emotional manipulation can occur when a person reacts with anger, sadness or disappointment when the other participant does not give consent immediately.

Making assumptions based on previous interactions

Both parties must always be on the same page. Saying yes once is not a free pass for future encounters. Each party should check in with one another and ensure they are both comfortable and ready to go on.

Disrespecting boundaries

By law, minors, individuals intoxicated by alcohol or drugs, or those who are asleep or unconscious generally cannot consent. Taking advantage of a person who cannot express consent or say no is a clear violation of boundaries.

Moreover, respectful partners should pay attention to non-verbal cues. If someone is pulling or showing hesitation, ignoring these signals could cross into criminal territory.

In healthy sexual relationships, all participants should feel comfortable expressing their boundaries and desires. Continuing sexual contact without the other party’s explicit consent constitutes sexual abuse. In West Virginia, sexual abuse is a felony punishable by up to five years in jail and fines of up to $10,000.