A person can give or withdraw their consent at any time during a sexual encounter. The best way to know if consent is present is to ASK. After asking, it is imperative to LISTEN to and RESPECT their response.
What is Consent?
An affirmative decision to engage in mutually agreed upon sexual activity and is given by clear words and/or actions. It is the responsibility of any party(ies) initiating an action to gain the consent of the other(s) involved before moving forward.
- Consent cannot be assumed or implied from silence, passivity or lack of resistance alone
- Consent must be continuous and can be withdrawn at any point. Consent to one form of sexual activity does not imply consent to other forms of sexual activity
- The existence of a current or previous dating, marital or sexual relationship is not sufficient to constitute consent to additional sexual activity
- Consent is not given if there is any kind of coercion present, including force (physical, emotional, verbal, etc.), intimidation, manipulation, blackmail or pressure
- Consent is not given if the individual(s) is incapacitated by alcohol, drugs and/or prescribed medication, and/or is asleep/unconscious
- Consent is not given if there is a power dynamic between the parties, such as between a professor and a student
Consent, and lack thereof, can take many forms. The best way to know if consent is present is to ASK. After asking, it is imperative to LISTEN to the response of the person(s) you are engaging and RESPECT their choice, even if it is not what you were hoping for.
Know, however, that non-consent is not always communicated as a verbal “No.” Nonverbal cues, generally known as body language, include facial expressions, gestures, posture and body movements. If a person is verbally saying “Yes,” but their body language is indicating “No,” or discomfort, it is imperative to STOP and CHECK IN with them. This means talking to the person(s) you are engaging to see if they agree with what is taking place.
Below are some of the principal body language signals that a person is uncomfortable in a situation, or is non-consenting. This list is not exhaustive. Further, this site acknowledges that some of these signs of non-consent may not be universal and/or may not apply to every cultural context.
- Their body is turned away from the person(s) engaging them
- They have crossed their arms and/or are displaying otherwise closed-off body language
- They are completely still or are not moving much
- They are not looking at the person(s) engaging them but around the room or at other people
- They are answering the person(s) engaging them in short phrases or are not engaging in conversation with them at all
These nonverbal cues are an important component of how people communicate with each other. Recognizing nonverbal cues can help you understand the expressed feelings of the person(s) you are engaging.
Note: Many people engage in sexual activity when they have used alcohol and/or drugs. These substances can change the way a person makes decisions and will affect their ability to ASK, LISTEN and RESPECT. A person's own intoxication cannot be used as a defence against failing to get consent. If you are unsure if someone can give their consent, then there is no consent.
Sexual Assault is a criminal offence in Canada. Consent is defined in section 273.1 of the Criminal Code of Canada.