Sharp guidelines, blurred lines

Students discuss their definition of consent

While Chapman’s sexual misconduct policy outlines what consent is, students have differing opinions about the definition of consent. Photo illustration by Jackie Cohen

Every year, freshmen are welcomed to campus with a mandatory Healthy Panther workshop including discussion about Chapman’s sexual misconduct policy and what consensual sex means and what it doesn’t. Still, many students have a different idea of what consensual sex is, and how to play the game by the rules.

Recent policy changes led by Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, who rescinded Obama-era guidelines on campus sexual assault investigations in late September, has sparked conversation among students about sexual misconduct and what it means on a college campus.

Chapman’s sexual misconduct policy is meant to protect both complainants and respondents, and includes the fact that consent cannot be given if someone is incapacitated, said Director of Student Conduct Colleen Wood.Chapman’s student sexual misconduct policy states that if one person is under the influence at the level of incapacitation which is defined as a state where someone cannot make rational decisions consent cannot be given. Although the university tries to be as clear as possible, some Chapman students have their own idea of what consent means and when it cannot be given.

“Anything other than a clear ‘yes’ spelled out with every letter is a hard no, and would be nonconsensual,” said junior screenwriting major Rafaela Bassili, who is also a member of Chapman Fems. “At this point, I hope we have all understood that intoxication means a person cannot clearly consent, and I think that trying to figure out a point where it would be OK or not to blur that line would only give assaulters the nuance they don’t need.”

Chapman’s policy states that consent is an affirmative “yes” by all participants to engage in sexual activity.

“If my definition of consent is that I’m reciprocating the action, then I guess it’s reasonable to assume consent has been given,” said sophomore creative producing major Lynnzee Highland. “And it’s reasonable if asking at every step is someone’s preference. But it might be kind of annoying to be like ‘is it OK’ if they kiss you, ‘is it OK’ and then they touch you. I don’t know if that would happen.”

In some cases, consent is assumed because of a previous relationship, or even a previous conversation. Some people don’t wait for a second, third or fourth “yes” as they round the bases if they already got permission to play the game.

Highland said that if someone is under the influence, the line of consent can be blurry.

“If I’ve had one or two drinks, I can give my consent, but if I’m really drunk, then no, absolutely not,” she said.

The policy adds that a person must be able to understand the “who, what, when, where, why or how” of the sexual interaction.

“Theoretically, someone can be incapacitated and still be up and walking around,” Wood said. “That’s why the definition of incapacitation is so important.”

There has been confusion among student bodies and in the media about the exact definition of incapacitation versus intoxication regarding consent violations, Wood said. Since Chapman does not depend on state funding, the university is not required to follow a set policy.

“It’s a clear line,” Bassili said. “‘No’ simply means ‘no,’ independent of whether it was clearly said or was stopped from being said by other circumstances, such as intoxication,” Bassili said. “It shouldn’t fall on the woman to decide at what point of intoxication she wouldn’t be able to give consent, but on her partner to understand that anything other than a ‘yes’ is simply a ‘no.’”

Moving to an affirmative consent standard was a very important development in the understanding of what consent is, Yocum Gaffney said.

“That does serve to make brighter lines where there weren’t before about what consent means,” she said.

Conservative estimates of sexual assault prevalence suggest that 25 percent of American women have experienced sexual assault, including rape, according to the National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. About half of sexual assault cases involved alcohol consumption by the perpetrator, victim or both.

Chapman’s policy states that consent cannot be assumed, even if the individuals are in a relationship.

“It’s not that we stop every step of the way, it’s more like if he’s kissing me and I’m kissing back. If it’s at that level, if we are both showing interest, that we assume consent is given,” said Highland, who has been in a relationship for more than a year. “There are certain points where he’ll ask if it’s OK and I’ll say ‘yes.’ I don’t know if that’s normal, but I like it that way.”

Highland added that it might be harder for someone to say “no” during a hookup, compared to someone in a long-term relationship.

The consent policy isn’t perfect, said Colette Grubman, a junior English major and member of Creating a Rape-free Environment for Students (C.A.R.E.S.).

“Students should educate themselves on the policy because it’s very important to know your resources and know your rights,” Grubman said. “The main part of our (C.A.R.E.S) job is making sure that people know how to be an active bystander and how to know what consent is and how you have it.”

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