Wednesday, April 17, 2024

End the confusion over consent

The National Sexual Violence Resource Center reported one in five women and one in 16 men are sexually assaulted while enrolled in college.
In the SUNY system, affirmative consent is “a knowing, voluntary and mutual decision among all participants to engage in sexual activity.”

Dinai Robertson, the violence prevention education outreach coordinator for Title IX, also emphasized that affirmative consent is “clear, not coerced, not passive and can be withdrawn at any time.”

According to Robertson, the first step is figuring out what consent means to an individual and identifying what verbal or nonverbal cues will indicate that consent is given.
Certain cues, however, can be deciphered differently from person to person. A head nod does not always mean yes or no to everyone. Through open communication, these cues can be clarified before engaging in sexual activity.

Coercion refers to one person trying to persuade another to do something they’re not comfortable with. For instance, if someone ignores their partner’s reluctance to have sex, threatens to break up with them or guilts them into having sex, that is a form of coercion.

Intersectionality of identity also comes into play. According to Robertson, in the LGBTQ+ community, coercion may appear in the form of someone threatening to out their partner if they don’t oblige.

“If you did not get a yes, 100 percent, you have to communicate on what clear looks like to that person,” Robertson said. “Every step of the way you’re checking in with your partner to make sure they’re comfortable [by asking] ‘Can I unbutton your pants? Do you like when I do this? Can I kiss you here?’”

Deanna Wolfe, a PSUC senior BFA studio art major expressed how vital it is for her and her partner to have a mutual understanding of each other’s autonomy and rights to their own bodies.
“A lot of people think asking for consent would kill the mood or that it isn’t sexy,” Wolfe said.

“One of the sexiest things to me is when my partners asks ‘is that OK’ or simple things like if he can touch me. He respects my personal wishes when it comes to my body.”

Michael Candelaria, a PSUC senior International Business and Business Administration major stated that he checks in with partner while having sex to ensure his partner is comfortable.
“I usually ask him if this is OK, if I’m hurting him or if he wants me to stop,” Candelaria said.

Consent cannot be given when a person is incapacitated. Often, the terms “intoxicated” and “incapacitated” are seen as interchangeable; however, they have different meanings.
“Intoxication happens when one intoxicant— a pill, a drink, a blunt— enters your body,” Robertson said.

Incapacitation is when someone is intoxicated to the point where they lack the ability to make conscious decisions. Incapacitation can also occur if someone is asleep or restrained against their own will.

According to the PSUC alcohol and drug amnesty policy, if an underaged victim reports the sexual assault but was intoxicated at the time of the assault, they will not be charged for underaged drinking.

The National Sexual Violence Resource Center reports more than 90 percent of sexual assault victims on college campuses don’t report the assault. For marginalized groups, this percentage is lower.

“Sexual assault and violence is underreported, not just here but all over the country,” Robertson said. “For the last semester where we had to submit our paperwork, we had 100 reports made of interpersonal and sexual violence. In those reports, we found a lot of white, heterosexual cisgender women were making reports because they felt comfortable coming out.”

She encourages marginalized groups to start opening up more on their experience with sexual assault on college campuses. If they don’t feel comfortably in coming out publically, there are people in the community who can advocate for them, including Robertson.

She also believes that members of the Plattsburgh community need to take the initiative and seek awareness on sexual education by attending more events on campus. Last semester, Title IX hosted more than 80 educational events— many that focused on affirmative consent.

Alongside Title IX, there are additional resources on campus to help sexual assault victims. University Police and resident assistants in ResLife work closely with students in these cases. The Student Health and Counseling Center offers free and confidential services on campus. Ward Hall also offers graduate student-run counseling services.

Email Jasely Molina at

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