Understanding Affirmative Consent

Understanding Affirmative Consent

At Keep Her Safe, we’re seeing a lot of buzz about “affirmative consent” as a way to stop campus sexual assault. To learn more, we spoke with Alison Berke, a founder of The Affirmative Consent Gamechange Project. Alison is a leading advocate of affirmative consent, and the organization’s website is a tremendous resource on the topic.

On the site, affirmative consent is defined as “affirmative, conscious, and voluntary agreement to engage in sexual activity.” Simply put—yes means yes—a shift from the current standard, no means no. Using affirmative consent, a person initiating sexual activity checks in with their partner and gets a “yes” before proceeding. An encounter may require multiple check ins to establish affirmative consent at different stages of the interaction.

Just like any hot new idea, there are apps for this, including Good2Go and WeConsent, which record when two people consent. WeConsent allows users to make a video and also has associated apps to record a clear “no” and a “changed mind” option. Affirmative Consent’s “Consent Conscious Kit” is more low tech. A small pouch contains a condom, consent contract, pen, and breath mint. Berke thinks people are more likely to be reminded to get consent when the contract is bundled with protection.

California and New York have enacted affirmative consent laws, and many are wondering how these can be enforced. The idea of affirmative consent has been declared by many to be impractical because it’s not sexy in the moment to ask for permission to proceed, and therefore doomed to fail.

The aftermath of sexual assault is messy and we need all tools available to make a cultural shift. That includes actually talking about sexual activity in intimate settings. At Keep Her Safe, we think educating young people about affirmative consent can help avoid some of the mess. Research indicates some students aren’t even clear about what constitutes rape, which means they need more education about sexual activity.

Berke says it’s all about encouraging conversations between partners. Affirmative Consent pulls together resources and information to support young adults in discussing their sexual relationship, and getting comfortable seeking and giving verbal affirmative consent.

Many colleges are currently educating students (some are now legally required to do so) about affirmative consent when engaging in sexual activity. Keep Her Safe recommends that parents add affirmative consent education to their assessment when selecting colleges. It is this kind of upfront education that can help many young people avoid the messy aftermath.

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Sheri Heitker Dixon is the founder of Keep Her Safe, a non-profit organization committed to making college campuses safe from sexual assault.

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