Only continuing reading this article if you are comfortable with this topic and are happy to proceed.
Starting University can be one of the most exhilarating, yet overwhelming, experiences in any young adult’s life, especially if you are an autistic person. Being a ‘fresher’ involves having to adapt to so many new aspects, such as, having to learn how to get around an entire campus to get to your lectures, learning how to make new friends, trying to build up the confidence to join a society and trying to understand what on earth is a ‘bibliography’? But, eventually, everything falls into a routine and you can start to enjoy it.
However, there is one important aspect of starting University that few seriously talk about. That is the topic of consent. University involves new experiences, particularly in relation to socialising and partying, which everyone, no matter who you are, should take part in and enjoy! To fully enjoy these experiences though, consent is something everyone needs to know and understand. And so, you may ask the question; what is consent? And why is it so important to learn as a first year about to start University?
What is consent?
Consent, when it comes to sexual activity, is defined as; “the voluntary agreement to engage in sexual activity” (DRCC, 2020). “Voluntary” meaning you as an individual are certain of your own decision to consent and are not being pressurised by someone or others (e.g., your friends). Moreover, it also means that you are sure that who you are sexual with, has and is consistently consenting to the act too.
“This agreement can be verbal or non-verbal” (DRCC, 2020).
Examples (but not exhaustive) of verbal and non-verbal consent include: (Washington State University, 2016)
|“Yes”||Direct eye contact|
|“I’m sure”||Initiating (responding to) sexual activity|
|“I know”||Pulling closer|
|“Don’t stop”||Actively touching|
|“I want to”||Nodding yes|
|“I’m not worried”||Laughter or smiling|
|“I want you/it/that”||“Open” body language|
|“Can you please do…”||Sounds of enjoyment|
|“I still want to”||An active body (alert, awake)|
|“That feels good”|
|“I want to do this right now”|
|“I feel good about this”|
The list above should help you see that consent is clear and obvious.
If you feel, however, that at the beginning, or even during an act, you are unsure of your own feelings about something or are unsure of the other person’s feelings, then the best thing to do is stop. Stop, talk about it and either you discontinue or (2) when you are comfortable personally/the other person has confirmed that they are comfortable, then continue.
Phrases for communicating consent with yourself and with another include: (DRCC, 2020)
When checking in with yourself, think to yourself:
How am I feeling?
Am I really comfortable with this?
Am I putting pressure on myself?
Do I want to do this?
And if you are not entirely comfortable, say:
Can we slow down a bit?
This is enough for me.
If you are comfortable:
This feels good.
I’m comfortable with this.
Checking in with the other person:
Are you comfortable?
Is this ok?
Does this feel good?
Therefore, “consent should never be assumed – it should be a clear, ongoing and continuous process in every new or repeated sexual encounter” (DRCC, 2020).
Furthermore, “…(consent) should be given freely by individuals capable of consenting” (DRCC, 2020).
“This means you and whoever you are with should be over the legal age of consent (which in Ireland is 17) and are not under the influence of any drugs or alcohol and not asleep or unconscious” (DRCC, 2020).
The following are examples (but not exhaustive) of a verbal or non-verbal ‘no’, or in other words, would be considered assault:
|“No”||Avoiding eye contact|
|“I’m not sure”||Not initiating (responding to) sexual activity|
|“I don’t know”||Pushing away|
|“I want to, but…”||Shaking head, no|
|“I feel worried about”||Crying or looking sad or fearful|
|“That hurts”||“Closed” body language|
|“I love you/this, but…”||Just lying there (unconscious, not active)|
|“I want to do that, but not right now”|
|“I don’t know how I feel about this”|
|“I don’t want to do this anymore”|
|“This feels wrong”|
Consent at University
Now that we have covered what consent is, it is time to discuss why this kind of an education is vital at University.
Unfortunately, instances of sexual violence and harassment at University are far too common an occurrence. In order to explain more, here are few terms which you will need to know:
Sexual violence = any act of unwarranted sexual advancement, including all the below.
Aggravated sexual assault = sexual assault aggravated by serious violence, or the threat of serious violence (gov.ie, 2019).
Sexual harassment = any form of unwanted verbal, non-verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature (gov.ie, 2019).
Rape = Rape is defined as unlawful sexual intercourse with a person who at the time of intercourse does not consent to it, where the perpetrator knows that they do not consent to the intercourse or are reckless as to whether the other person does or does not consent to it (gov.ie, 2019).
Remember, both men and women can be victims of sexual crimes.
To paint the picture using statistics:
In a recent survey carried out by Active Consent, NUIG, it states: “Students with a disability are acknowledged to have a particularly high level of exposure to misconduct and harassment” at University (Active Consent, 2020).
“Women with a disability (are) at greater risk than other women” (Active Consent, 2020).
And “over half of students with a disability reported an experience of sexual misconduct by any tactic (56%) “(Active Consent, 2020).
However, these statistics are not listed to scare you in any way. University is all about getting out there and socialising. Instead focus on the points that were given on consent above and learn from them. Below are also some possible scenarios which can also help you too.
Possible scenarios at University (Yale, 2013)
Although this seems like voluntary consent at first, it is actually sexual coercion by Ryo to get Casey to have sex. In the end, Casey clearly says “wait, stop” and Ryo rapes her.
This is fully consensual sex.
Harper goes beyond the boundaries set by Sidney and proceeds to have sex even after Sidney had said “this is a bad idea”. This is rape.
To conclude, remember, you are the only person who can give consent and when it comes to pursuing someone else, consent is a “clear, ongoing and continuous process”(DRCC, 2020).
Who to contact if you ever need to talk:
Dublin Rape Crisis Centre – 1800 778888
Rape Crisis Network Ireland – 091 563676
Active Consent (2020) “Sexual Experiences Survey 2020”. Available at: https://www.nuigalway.ie/media/smartconsent/Sexual-Experiences-Survey-2020.pdf
Dublin Rape Crisis Centre (DRCC) (2020) “Consent: What Do I Need to Know?”, Dublin Rape Crisis Centre Resources. Available at: https://www.drcc.ie/assets/files/pdf/159015550724472171.pdf
gov.ie (2019) “What is Sexual Violence”. Available at: https://www.gov.ie/en/publication/9bd76c-what-is-sexual-violence/
Washington State University (2016) “Your guide to verbal and non-verbal consent”. Available at: https://cougarhealth.wsu.edu/2016/11/09/guide-verbal-non-verbal-consent/
Yale (2013) “Sexual Misconduct Scenarios”. Available at: https://provost.yale.edu/sites/default/files/files/Sexual-Misconduct-Scenarios_Sept2013.pdf