Let’s Talk Consent
By Celeste Houle
On February 20th, the Heads and Hands’ Sense Project visited Dawson College to give a workshop on consent and sexual assault. The Montreal-based organization has one clear goal: to support young people in healthy sexual development by giving them the tools and information necessary in order for them to make reflective and empowering decisions. The workshop took place in Oliver’s, creating a comfortable setting for students to participate in this active discussion and address multiple topics surrounding sexual education.
The Heads and Hands’ Sense Project, located in Notre-Dame-de-Grâce, offers different programs for youths aged between ten and twenty-five years old. The programs provide different health services such as a youth clinic which is open Tuesday and Thursday evenings and a legal clinic where a paralegal can answer interrogations regarding the ins and outs of legal system.
The first issue tackled in the workshop was consent and what it entails. Although many may define consent as a simple “yes,” the workshop emphasized that the word “Yes” and the “Absence of Yes” are explicitly different. Workshop volunteers established that it is necessary to pay careful attention to one’s partner in any given circumstance as a positive response is not always as explicit as mentioned.
In order for sex to be consensual, all parties involved must say “Yes” in a clear and enthusiastic manner and be in a state to agree to having sex, meaning that they should be fully aware, sober, and conscious of the situation. Consent can be taken back at any given moment, as well as be renewed – although it does not necessarily mean that one must obligatorily renew it. However, if there are conflicting signs, the solution should come automatically: simply ask the other if they are consenting without challenging the answer.
The animators also explored the legal aspect of consent, establishing that the criminal law recognizes the legal capacity of a person to consent to sexual activity starting from the age of sixteen in Canada and Quebec. However, once can consent at a younger age under certain conditions. The legal age gap between sexual partners who are aged 12 or 13 is up to 2 years, while the age gap between partners who are aged 14 or 15 is up to 5 years. Consent is illegal when a partner is in a vulnerable position, more specifically in contrast to someone who is in a position of authority or trust over them. The power and authority imbalance between partners could be due to financial or housing reasons, among others.
Another topic discussed was the definition of sexual assault.
Participants found that sexual assault is a tricky concept to define in our society nowadays as many view penetration as a necessary element. Sexual assault, however, is not just physical; it can be verbal as well. As described in the workshop, there are many complexities to consider while addressing sexual assault, although we should always pay close attention to the victim’s perspective, considering the least we can do is support and listen to them.
Consent is not a “check-box” or a “sign here” issue; it is a matter of respect and communication. No one should ever take away the ownership of one’s body or one's decision to give, refuse or withdraw consent. It is as simple as that.