Consent vs. Coercion

Consent vs. Coercion

Consent is when someone agrees, gives permission, or says yes enthusiastically to sexual activity with someone else. Central to the concept of consent is the understanding that every person has a right to control her/his/hir body, and to not be acted upon by someone else in a sexual manner unless he/she/ze gives clear permission to do so. The person initiating the sexual activity is responsible for obtaining permission from the person or persons he/she/ze wants to engage in sexual activity with. Consent is always freely given, and every person involved in a sexual situation must feel that they are able to say “yes” or “no” at any point during sexual activity. Absence of clear permission means you can’t touch someone, not that you can

In most cases, consent should be a clear verbal agreement. However, if a person is seeking consent from someone who cannot communicate verbally, he/she/ze should obtain consent using another agreed upon method of communication. Non-verbal communication includes sign language, writing or typing messages, gestures, nodding or shaking one’s head, and blinking, to name just a few.

Consent is not:

Body language: If a person makes eye contact, smiles, leans in, sits close to, embraces, or touches someone else in a manner that might be perceived to be friendly or even flirtatious, it does not automatically mean that the person is asking to engage in sexual activity or consenting to it.

Power differentials: When one person holds significant power over another person (i.e., boss/employee or professor/student), it is more difficult to be sure that this difference of power is not influencing any sexual interactions between them.

Dating relationships or previous sexual activity: Simply because two people are dating or have had sex before does not mean that consent is automatically present. Both must always feel they have the right to say no to sex.

Marriage: Even in marriage, consent can never be assumed. Marital rape does exist, and it is just as severe as any other sexual assault. In Georgia, there are marital rape laws that make a sexual assault in a marriage a crime.

Being drunk: Alcohol consumption can render a person incapable of giving consent. Perpetrators often use alcohol as a weapon to target individuals and as a means of excusing their own actions. Emory’s sexual misconduct/Title IX policy and Georgia laws apply to a perpetrator regardless of whether or not he/she/ze was drinking.

Coercion is a tactic that perpetrators use to exert power and control over another person. Coercion occurs when a person intimidates, tricks, forces, or manipulates someone into engaging in sexual activity without the use of physical force. Perpetrators may also use threats of violence, blackmail, drugs, and/or alcohol to coerce someone into sexual activity.

A perpetrator may use coercive statements to manipulate another person. Examples of these include:

            “If you really loved me, you would have sex with me.”

            “If you won’t have sex with me, I’ll find someone who will.”

            “But you’ve been flirting with me all night.”

            “I didn’t realize you were such a prude.”

Adapted to Emory University with permission by a team of Respect Program staff and interns from the University of Michigan’s Striving for Justice document.