Kristine Barnett, EdD
Vice Provost for Academic Affairs and Dean, Liberal Studies
Consent to engage in sexual activity must be knowing and voluntary. Consent to engage in sexual activity must exist from the beginning to end of each instance of sexual activity, and for each form of sexual contact. Consent to one form of sexual contact does not constitute consent to all forms of sexual contact. For example, an individual may agree to kiss but choose not to engage in touching of the intimate parts or sexual intercourse. An individual should obtain consent before moving from one act to another.
Consent consists of an outward demonstration indicating that an individual has freely chosen to engage in sexual activity. Consent is demonstrated through mutually understandable words and/or actions that clearly indicate a willingness to engage freely in sexual activity. Relying on non-verbal communication can lead to misunderstandings. Consent may not be inferred from silence, passivity, lack of resistance or lack of active response alone. A person who does not physically resist or verbally refuse sexual activity is not necessarily giving consent. In the absence of an outward demonstration, consent does not exist. If at any time it is reasonably apparent that either party is hesitant, confused or uncertain, both parties should stop and obtain mutual verbal consent before continuing sexual activity.
A current or previous dating or sexual relationship, by itself, is not sufficient to constitute consent. Even in the context of a relationship, there must be mutually understandable communication that clearly indicates willingness to engage in sexual activity each time such activity occurs.
Consent may be withdrawn by either party at any time. Withdrawal of consent must also be outwardly demonstrated by words or actions that clearly indicate a desire to end sexual activity. Once withdrawal of consent has been expressed, sexual activity must cease.
In the state of Massachusetts, consent can never be given by minors under the age of 16.
Consent is not effective if it results from the use or threat of physical force, intimidation, or coercion, or any other factor that would eliminate an individual’s ability to exercise his or her own free will to choose whether or not to have sexual contact. Coercion includes the use of pressure and/or oppressive behavior, including express or implied threats of harm, severe and/or pervasive emotional intimidation, which places an individual in fear of immediate or future harm or physical injury or causes a person to engage in unwelcome sexual activity. A person’s words or conduct amount to coercion if they wrongfully impair the other’s freedom of will and ability to choose whether or not to engage in sexual activity.
An individual who is incapacitated is not able to make rational, reasonable judgments and therefore is incapable of giving consent. Incapacitation is the inability, temporarily or permanently, to give consent, because the individual is mentally and/or physically helpless due to drug or alcohol consumption, either voluntarily or involuntarily, or the individual is unconscious, asleep or otherwise unaware that the sexual activity is occurring. In addition, an individual is incapacitated if he/she/they demonstrate that they are unaware of where they are, how they got there, or why or how they became engaged in a sexual interaction. Where alcohol is involved, incapacitation is a state beyond drunkenness or intoxication. Some indicators of incapacitation may include, but are not limited to, lack of control over physical movements, lack of awareness of circumstances or surroundings, or the inability to communicate for any reason. An individual may experience a blackout state in which he/she/they appear to be giving consent, but do not actually have conscious awareness or the ability to consent. It is especially important, therefore, that anyone engaging in sexual activity be aware of the other person’s level of intoxication. The relevant standard that will be applied is whether the Respondent knew, or a sober reasonable person in the same position should have known, that the other party was incapacitated and therefore could not consent to the sexual activity.
The University considers sexual contact while under the influence of alcohol to be risky behavior. Alcohol impairs a person’s decision-making capacity, awareness of the consequences, and ability to make informed judgments. Being intoxicated or impaired by drugs or alcohol is never an excuse for sexual misconduct and does not excuse one from the responsibility to obtain consent.