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We need to start talking about consent

  • Published at 04:40 pm March 8th, 2019
Representational photo Bigstock

Most people around us are not even aware of the necessity of seeking consent

Personal space is not a very popular concept in Bangladeshi culture. Be it your distant relative asking you awkward questions about your wedding, your parents and siblings entering your room without even knocking or a stranger shaking your hand for an entire minute; we just can’t seem to grasp the concept of personal boundaries. However, when it comes to understanding Consent, ignorance is not only non-civic but also criminal. Violation of consent is tantamount to sexual assault and even rape.

What is consent? 

Consent means taking verbal or physical permission from an individual before touching them, being physically intimate with them or entering their personal space. To an average reader, this might sound like common sense, but consciously or unconsciously, we violate people’s consent everyday; or at least see it being violated and don’t say anything about it. Most people around us are not even aware of the necessity of seeking consent. It is time things changed. A few things about consent need to be made absolutely clear.

No means no, even with loved ones

Although Bollywood and Dhallywood may have led you to believe that a girl’s ‘no’ means ‘yes’, or the hero can turn her ‘no’ into a ‘yes’ with his ‘heroic acts; in real life, things are to the contrary. When a girl says ‘No’ to your romantic or physical approach, don’t assume there is a ‘yes’ hidden deep inside. Take the ‘No’ and leave. If you still keep insisting, nagging and pushing, then you are not a hero. You are a perverted stalker.

A lot of people think, close relationships are devoid of consent; “She is my friend, do I have to even ask her before hugging? “She is my wife, for god’s sake. What do I need her consent for?” “Do I need my son’s consent before entering his room?

The answer is yes. Just because she is your friend, doesn’t mean she would be comfortable with all kinds of intimacy.

Yes, Marital rape is a thing. Just because she is your wife, doesn’t mean she is your property. You must value her consent. Non-consensual sex with your wife is rape. Even though our legal system is yet to recognize marital rape, that does not take away the horrendous suffering of thousands of women across the country who are raped by their loved ones.

And yes, if your son or daughter wants a bit of privacy, that is fine. If you just knock before entering the room, this won’t belittle you. In fact, respect towards each other’s personal space strengthens relationships.

Consent is not only applicable for physical intimacy

If you want to share a table at a restaurant you need their consent. If you want to borrow a pen from someone, you need their consent (by the way, most people just take the pen anyway thinking it was just lying around.) And quite important for these days, you must take consent before you photograph someone. Photographing or videoing someone or posting their photos or videos on social media without their consent is a punishable offence.

Consent is changeable and retractable

Consent might change over time and must not be taken for granted forever. Simply because she consented to something yesterday, doesn’t mean she would have to consent to the same today. She has every right to say no.

Just because you consented to something primarily, doesn’t mean you have to go through with it. If you feel uncomfortable at any point of the act, you have the right to retract your consent and the other person must respect that.

Consent to talking to you over the phone doesn’t mean consent to having coffee with you. Consent to having coffee with you doesn’t mean consent  to going on a date with you. Consent to going on a date with you doesn’t mean consent to physical intimacy with you. Every consent is limited to that act only and further consent must not be assumed.

Consent is not always verbal 

Often, mostly in emotionally driven moments, consent is understood through body language. However, any verbal or physical resistance from either of the individuals means absence of consent. That is the point when you must back away.

Not everyone can give consent

Consent from minors, semi- conscious or unconscious people or intoxicated people doesn’t count. Engaging in physical intimacy with them, even if they verbally or physically consented, would be tantamount to sexual assault.

If blackmail, fear or guilt was used to gain consent, then it doesn’t count either. It was a coerced choice and the coercing person can still be held accounted for rape.

Consent is not only a right of women 

Physical intimacy against a man’s consent is also a horrible crime. If a man doesn’t consent to physical intimacy with a woman, then she must respect that too.

Understanding consent better would help us protect ourselves, our children and most importantly those who run the risk of consent violation from us. If we can build a culture where consent is respected, we can gradually reduce the incidents of rape and sexual harassment. 

Sakib bin Rashid is a public speaker and social activist, currently working at BRAC Education program as Deputy Manager and at 10 Minute School as Chief Instructor. Rafiath Rashid Mithila is a development worker, social activist and actress, currently the Head of Early Childhood Development programme at BRAC International