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Understanding Consent & Bystander Intervention

Tips to Understand Consent:

If you find yourself or someone you know ​engaging in sexual behavior, remember that CONSENT is critical between partners and potential partners. Don’t take advantage of someone’s drunkenness, drugged, or otherwise incapacitated state; they are not able to give consent.

  1. Realize that your potential partner could be intimidated by you, or fearful of you. You may have a power advantage simply because of your gender or size. Don’t abuse that power.
  2. Understand and respect personal boundaries. Do not pressure a potential partner.
  3. Silence and passivity cannot be interpreted as a sign of consent. Read your potential partner carefully, paying attention to verbal, non‐verbal communication, and body language. If you are not sure that your partner has given you consent, then you should stop and not move forward unless you have received a sober and enthusiastic yes.
  4. Words of uncertainty should NOT be read as consent until clarification is gained. An example of this might be if someone says, “I’m not sure,” that should NOT be interpreted as consent for intimacy.
  5. Understand that consent to one form of sexual behavior does not automatically equal consent to any other form of sexual behavior. Additionally, consent on one occasion doesn’t equal consent at a later time.
  6. Clearly communicate your intentions to your sexual partner and give them a chance to clearly communicate their intentions to you. ​Also, remember your partner is not obligated to engage in sexual behavior with you just because you’ve named your intentions, or bought them dinner, or anything else.
  7. DON’T MAKE ASSUMPTIONS ABOUT CONSENT or about someone’s sexual availability; about whether they are attracted to you; about how far you can go; or about whether they are physically and/or mentally able to consent. If there are any questions or ambiguity, then you DO NOT have consent and you should stop.
  8. If you think you are receiving unclear or conflicting messages from your partner, this is a clear indication that you should stop.​
  9. Remember that consent is active and ongoing. This means that it must be obtained for each sexual act. It also means that it can be revoked at any point. So, if your partner(s) do not indicate that they want to continue, you must stop.

Tips for Bystander Intervention:

Preventing sexual harassment is everybody’s responsibility. An engaged bystander is someone who lives up to that responsibility by intervening before, during, or after a situation when they witness behaviors that threaten, harass, or otherwise encourage sexual violence. The behaviors that make up sexual violence exist on a spectrum. While some behaviors – such as sexist jokes, inappropriate sexual comments, innuendos, catcalling, or vulgar gestures – aren’t necessarily illegal, this does not make them any less threatening or harmful to the person experiencing them. These situations also take place across a range of locations and settings – often in public spaces, workplaces, schools, communities, and online. All of us must embrace our ability to demonstrate that these behaviors will not be tolerated.

  1. Disrupt the situation. Every situation is different, and there is no one way to respond. When you witness a person being harassed, threatened, or followed by someone, you can try to distract the harasser or insert yourself into their interaction to help the targeted person get out of the situation. For example, if you see someone on the street being verbally harassed, you can interrupt the harasser and ask them for directions. You can also intervene by pretending to know the person being harassed and starting a conversation with them as an opportunity to come between them and the harasser.
  2. Don’t act alone. Get support from people around you by calling on others to help. The more people who come together to interrupt a situation, the more you reinforce the idea that the behavior is not acceptable in your community. This can be as simple as saying, “Let’s say something to them so they stop.” ​You can also ask people with authority to help such as a professor, supervisor, or bouncer. If you do not feel safe, you may consider contacting the police.
  3. Confront the harasser. Whether or not you know the harasser, you can intervene by telling them in a respectful, direct, and honest way that their words or actions are not okay. For example, when you hear someone make comments that blame victims for being assaulted, or make light of sexual violence, you can tell them:
    1. You need to stop.
    2. That’s so inappropriate.
    3. What you just said made me feel uncomfortable. Here’s why…
    4. Do you realize how problematic that is?
    5. We need to talk about what you just said.
    6. Why would you say that?
  4. Set the expectation to speak up and step in. Talking openly and responding directly to inappropriate behaviors will have a snowball effect and encourage others to respond. It shows you recognize the comment or behavior is unacceptable and shows others it will not be tolerated. For example, if you are in a group setting and you hear someone make inappropriate comments, you can say:
    1. Are you hearing what I am hearing?
    2. I can’t be the only one who thinks this is not OK.
    3. I don’t see how XYZ is relevant or appropriate to this discussion.
    4. I know you’re a better person than that.
  5. Understand how your privilege positions you to speak up. Your age, race, gender, etc. may make it safer for you to speak up and be vocal about harassment – especially when you are not the target or representative of the target group.
  6. Focus on the needs and experience of the target and ensure they receive the support they need.
    1. Let them know that what has happened to them isn’t their fault.
    2. Affirm that they didn’t do anything wrong.
    3. Express your support for the individual. – I saw what they just did.  How are you doing? – I heard what that person said to you. I am so sorry.
  7. Take action online. Everyone can help address an online culture that tolerates rape and sexual violence. Online comments that blame victims contribute to a broader climate in which sexual violence is tolerated and not taken seriously. Believe and support survivors. For example, thank survivors for sharing their stories in the comments of news articles and blog posts. Respond to victim-blaming, rape jokes, or other problematic comments on social media: – Post a response like, “Sexual assault is never the survivor’s fault.” – Refocus accountability on the individual(s) who committed sexual abuse.
  8. Be proactive. Practice with friends and family what you would say and how you would say it if you’re ever put in the situation where you need to confront a harasser. Think of how you would like others to take action on your behalf or reflect on a situation where you wish you had acted differently.

Information within this section is from and can be found in the 2018 NSVRC Tip Sheet. Retrieved from: https://www.nsvrc.org/sites/default/files/2018-02/publications_nsvrc_tip-sheet_bystander-intervention-tips-and-strategies_1.pdf

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