On Consent

6 Mar

by Erin Riordan

Consent is not the absence of a no; it is the presence of a yes.

Consent is given, not taken.

Consent is not coerced or forced; it is freely, and willingly, given.

Consent is voluntary.

Consent is active, not passive.

Consent is continual.

Consent is not implied. Consent cannot be assumed.

Consent is informed and honest.

Consent is not blackout drunk.

Consent cannot be given by someone who is asleep, or unconscious, or passed out.

Consent is always necessary, and its absence is inexcusable.

In the absence of consent, there is sexual assault.

There is an epidemic of sexual assault in the world, in the United States, and at colleges and universities across the country.

In the United States, 1 in 4 women will experience sexual assault by the time she graduates. 1 in 33 men will experience sexual assault by the time he graduates. These numbers apply nationally, and according to National College Health Assessment data are true of Georgetown as well. 80% of survivors of sexual assault on college campuses knew their attacker (1).

According to the CDC’s National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey, 1 in 3 women and 1 in 4 men have experienced rape, physical violence, or stalking at some point during their lifetime. About 1 in 5 women and 1 in 71 men will experience rape during their lifetime (2).

44% of survivors of sexual assault are under the age of 18, and 80% are under the age of 30. It is estimated that every year in the U.S., there are approximately 207,754 survivors of sexual assault. Approximately 2/3 of survivors of sexual assault knew the person who committed sexual assault.

54% of sexual assaults are not reported to police (3).

Meanwhile, the rate of false reporting is only 2%.

Sometimes confronting the reality of sexual assault is daunting, overwhelming, and exhausting. Sexual assault is so widespread, so ingrained into our culture, it can feel hard to figure out what can be done, what I can do to combat sexual assault. So many different factors are at play that have contributed to this pandemic of sexual assault and culture of violence. When looking at all of it head on, I have no idea what action to take, what words to say, how I can do anything to make it better.

But looking around my most immediate community, and looking at the culture on Georgetown’s campus, I think one immediate need is a conversation around consent. To quote Kent State’s Consent Matters, “Without consent, sex is sexual assault” (4).

And when a community does not have a universal definition of consent, and an understanding of what does and does not constitute sexual assault, it is easier for sexual assault to be prevalent, an accepted part of campus life, invisible, and stigmatized.

The conversation around consent matters because a group of football players in Steubenville, Ohio thought it was ok to rape an unconscious, underage girl and document the assault. Consent matters because the Connecticut State Supreme Court set an accused rapist free because they felt the severely disabled survivor didn’t resist enough. Consent matters because a majority of sexual assault cases go unreported, and 97% of rapists never spend a day in jail. If we are to do justice by survivors of sexual assault, then there is much work that needs to be done. One place to start is with consent.

If you find anything in this article triggering, please know that resources and support are available.

Want to hear more? Read Kat Kelley’s response on The Consent Revolution.


(1) http://www.slc.edu/offices-services/security/assault/statistics.html

(2) http://www.cdc.gov/ViolencePrevention/pdf/NISVS_Report2010-a.pdf

(3) http://www.rainn.org/statistics

(4) http://www.kent.edu/sart/geteducated/consentmatters/index.cfm

Additional Resources about consent:




5 Responses to “On Consent”

  1. Egalitarian October 12, 2013 at 4:39 am #

    The “1 in 71 men have been raped” stat you sourced from the CDC survey doesn’t tell the whole story. It defines “rape” as the attacker penetrating the victim, which excludes women who use their vagina to rape a man (rape by envelopment) which is counted as “made to penetrate”. The very same survey says “1 in 21 men (4.8%) reported that they were made to penetrate someone else.” which is far more than 1 in 71. Also, the study says that 79.2% of male victims of “made to penetrate” reported only female perpetrators, meaning they were raped by a woman.

    The above, lifetime stats do show a lower percentage of male victims (up to 1.4% rape by penetration + 4.8% made to penetrate = 6.2%) than female victims (18.3%) although it is far more than the 1 in 71 you stated. However, if you look at the report’s stats for the past 12 months, just as many number of men were “forced to penetrate” as women were raped, meaning that if you properly include “made to penetrate” in the definition of rape, men were raped as often as women.


  1. The Consent Revolution | Feminists-at-Large - March 11, 2013

    […] In response to (and affirmation of) Erin Riordan’s piece On Consent. […]

  2. What Are We Going To Do About Steubenville? | Feminists-at-Large - March 20, 2013

    […] to be taught in Sex Ed classes in schools, and reinforced throughout a person’s life. Kat and myself have both written about consent before more extensively, but ultimately what I think we should be […]

  3. Consent Culture | Feminists-at-Large - April 12, 2013

    […] that is unambiguous, voluntary, informed, and without hesitation. As Erin Riordan previously said here, “consent is not the absence of a no; it is the presence of a yes.” Anything less is not […]

  4. Supporting a Survivor of Sexual Assault: The Basics | Feminists-at-Large - July 17, 2013

    […] don’t invalidate their experience by calling it a “gray area.” Consent is affirmative, not implied. You don’t need to push and shove to “prove” you aren’t consenting. Consent must be […]

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