The Criminal Code of Canada defines sexual consent as the voluntary agreement of a person to engage in sexual activity. In order for there to be consent, a person must actively, willingly and continuously consent to all sexual activity.
This means that consent:
- Is not the absence of “no”;
- Cannot be assumed or implied;
- Cannot be given by an individual incapacitated by alcohol, drugs, or some other reason, and/or who is unconscious or otherwise incapable of giving consent;
- Can be revoked at any time, whatever other sexual activities have taken place;
- Cannot be obtained through an abuse of power, threats, intimidation, coercion or pressure tactics;
- Cannot be obtained if the other individual abuses a position of trust or authority; and
- Cannot be assumed from previous consent to similar activities.
This video “Consent: It’s as simple as tea” demonstrates the concept of consent using tea drinking as a metaphor.
Though consent is a simple concept, our culture often places too much emphasis on the situation and the environment rather than the people involved in the moment. How often have you heard someone say something similar to the statements below?
- “I saw them making out- she was obviously okay with it then.”
- “She was sure dressed like she wanted it.”
- “What did he expect when he went upstairs with him?”
Statements like these cast confusion on whether or not the person was consenting because they suggest that consent can be determined from the situation. But the situation or environment doesn’t speak for you – only you can give consent.
- Just because someone was making out doesn’t mean they are consenting to anything else.
- Just because someone is dressed in revealing clothing doesn’t mean they are consenting to sex.
- Just because someone goes up to another person’s bedroom doesn’t mean they are consenting to sex.
The only thing that matters in consent is the people in the moment of sexual activity and whether or not each one of them is agreeing to the activity. Everything else – the environment, their clothes, substances consumed, what they said earlier, what they’ve consented to before – is irrelevant.
This comic provides more metaphors to help clarify the concept of consent and to challenge myths held about sexual participation. The disrespectful behaviours we see in these comics would make us feel uncomfortable. When it comes to sexuality it is even more important that we respect the rights of a person to determine their personal level of sexual participation.
This video “Got consent?” shows examples of people verbally giving and implying consent and non-consent. Some use phrases; others use gestures, body language or facial expressions. A person doesn’t need to scream or run away to make it apparent that they are not consenting.
If you are ever unsure if the person you are with is consenting, STOP and ask them.
Consent is a clear and simple concept. So why does sexual violence happen?
In our society, sometimes people don’t take consent seriously. Think about terms like “getting raped” when losing a video game, or the phrases “tease” and “playing hard-to-get.” Phrases like this reflect that our society often treats consent as a joke, and that “no” just means “maybe” or “try harder.”
But consent isn’t a game. Ignoring someone saying or implying “no” is an act of violence. Disregarding consent is about gaining power and control over another person, and hurting them. When consent is ignored or violated, this is sexual assault.
One tactic that people sometimes use to violate consent and gain control over someone is called coercion. In the context of sexual misconduct, coercion involves using manipulation against someone until they give in. When people are coerced into giving consent, they are not saying “yes” on their own terms. This looks very different from consensual sexual activity.
Coercion is behaviours like the following:
- threatening (e.g. “I’ll break up with you if you don’t have sex with me”)
- intimidating (e.g. smashing something when someone says “no” or punching a hole in the wall)
- blackmailing (e.g. “I’ll tell everyone you’re gay if you don’t”)
- pressuring (e.g. repeatedly asking someone until they are worn down)
- guilt-tripping (e.g., “If you really loved me you would have sex with me”)
It’s important to understand that in situations involving coercion, the person was not given the space or choice to freely say “no.” It’s not that they did not say “no,” but that they could not say “no.” When this happens, this is sexual assault.
In Canada, when it comes to consent, the law is very clear that:
- You can only consent for yourself.
- You actually have to be able to give consent. That means you have to be awake, conscious, and sober enough to make a clear decision.
- People in positions of trust, power or authority cannot abuse their position to get sexual activity.
- If you imply “no” through your words or behaviours that’s just as good as saying “NO”.
- You have the right to change your mind and stop at any time for any reason during sexual activity.
As for the age of consent, here’s a quick run down:
- Under age 12: Children are unable to consent to sexual activity under any circumstances.
- Ages 12-16: Some flexibility for “close in age” exceptions and peers. For example:
- For ages 12-13, consent is only legal if the partner is less than two years older.
- For ages 14-15, consent is only legal if the partner is less than five years older.
- 16 is the official age of consent to sexual activity in Canada.