Adapted post by Jennifer Hollinshead, former Sexual Assault Counsellor, UBC Counselling Services
A huge part of life at UBC is about navigating personal relationships. I was asked to write a post about the idea of consent in relation to sexual contact, and I don’t think I can write about consent without writing about respect.
We’re all taught about respect when we’re growing up in varying ways. Respecting others is about acknowledging that everyone has a different experience, personality, and body.
Most importantly, respecting others means honouring their physical and emotional boundaries. Boundaries are spoken and unspoken and allow us to navigate our relationships with others in ways that feel safe and respectful.
An example of a breach of an unspoken boundary is someone who is a “close talker.” Although no one defines the perfect distance between two people talking, we all know when the comfortable distance has been breached.
What are your boundaries?
Try to identify some of your boundaries and what you are comfortable with and uncomfortable with in your relationships with others. Now, think about how you respect others’ boundaries. Successful and healthy relationships are built on respecting others’ and our own boundaries.
University should be a safe place where all members of the community are respected and lifelong relationships are forged.
Sadly, universities have been identified as places where consent is not always respected. Over 80% of sexual assaults are by someone the person knows and alcohol is often involved (Canadian Federation of Students – Ontario, 2003). This is a problem that must be addressed.
So what can you do about it?
Everyone can support a change for the better by having respectful and consensual relationships, and remembering that sex and consent are inseparable.
Here’s what you need to know about consent:
- Consent is the freely given, enthusiastic agreement to engage in sexual activity of any kind.
Consent is not present if someone feels pressured, coerced, or threatened. If you are pressuring someone to have sexual contact, stop.
- If someone is under the influence of alcohol or drugs, they can’t legally consent to any sexual activity.
If you are unsure whether someone is under the influence, don’t engage in sexual contact. Wait for another time when you’re both sober and both interested.
- Respect and consent must be ongoing.
Just because someone consented before doesn’t mean they still consent. Continue to check in and listen.
If you have experienced sexual assault
Support is available, and reaching out for help is a sign of strength. Connect with resources like UBC's Sexual Violence Prevention and Response Office (604.822.1588) and the AMS Sexual Assault Support Centre (604.827.5180).