Consent redefined by NIU


By Alexander Chettiath

The phrase “no means no” will no longer be needed as the Violence Against Women Act implementation committee has redefined consent.

“Consent: a clear, unambiguous, informed and voluntary agreement between all participants to knowingly engage in sexual activity. Consent must be mutually understandable by words or actions … . Consent is active and cannot be based on the absence of an affirmative statement or act of denial. Silence or lack of resistance does not constitute consent,” according to NIU’s Annual Safety and Security Report.

The definition was redone in compliance with federal statutes and the Preventing Sexual Violence in Higher Education Act, which was passed in Illinois on Aug. 21.

“I love this definition. I think it is really progressive and smart and clearly written,” said Kristen Myers, implementation committee chair. “I think it fits young people’s expectations of safety and what dating and sex entails. You have to talk about these things. But the ‘yes means yes’ is important because the ‘no means no’ hasn’t been very effective. If someone doesn’t say ‘no’ but they don’t really say anything, that’s a ‘yes.’ The absence of a ‘no’ is not a ‘yes.’”

The definition includes provisions stating it is the responsibility of the initiator to receive consent, it can be given and withdrawn at any time, it cannot be given while incapacitated, it cannot be coerced and it must be given to all participants and/or any person who records or photographs any aspect of the sexual encounter, as well as third parties who wish to view the sexual activity, according to NIU’s 2015-2016 Annual Safety And Security Report.

In 2013, Illinois’ reported rape rate was 33.1 per 100,000 persons, while the nation’s average was 34.4, according to FBI crime statistics. Sexual assaults at NIU have increased in the last five years — six in 2011, 11 in 2012, 12 in 2013 and 15 in 2014, according to NIU’s 2015-2016 Annual Safety And Security Report.

Violence Against Women Act implementation committee

The 56-member implementation committee was created in February 2015 and has six subcommittees; Compliance, Response, Intervention, Prevention, Data Collection and Analysis and Student Concerns, Myers said.

The goal of the committee is to implement the recommendations made by the presidential task force that was created in January 2014 to determine appropriate allocation of resources, training, services regarding sexual assault awareness, said NIU spokesman Brad Hoey, a member of the committee.

“Getting out the definition of consent is among the bigger things that the implementation component has worked on,” Hoey said. “What we were doing on the communications side is making sure that we run a campaign that gets that information out.”

The committee plans to get the word out through NIU communications, the Student Association’s It’s On Us campaign, videos during athletic events and posters, Hoey said.

The next step for the committee is the completion of a centralized, easy to navigate website with all pertinent information so sexual assault survivors can decide how to proceed, Myers said.

“Students need to be given options, they need to be in charge of what they do,” said Mary Ellen Schaid, Safe Passage executive director. “Some people aren’t ready for the police, or a Title IX investigation, or to deal with the student conduct information. They just want somebody to talk to and keep it confidential.”

Safe Passage, an Illinois Coalition Against Sexual Assault agency in DeKalb, provides a wide range of services to victims of domestic and sexual violence, including crisis intervention and medical and legal advocacy for victims of domestic and sexual violence.

“Consent can be confusing, there is a lot of nuance to it, sometimes it is really helpful to have an educator, someone to talk that through,” Schaid said. “The definition is important but it is more than that, its talking about what that definition means. When you’re in that situation you aren’t necessarily going to think about the definition of consent.”