Clarifying consent: Preventing sexual assault starts with partners communicating

Reading Time: 2 minutes

Universities around the U.S. are engaged in conversations about consent to educate students about sexual assault. However, consent is such a complex and important issue that one discussion is not enough to fully understand the nuances of it. Here’s what the experts say about consent.

“Mostly what you learn while discussing consent is that no one really knows what it is. It’s scary. We don’t have good role models or conversations around it,” said Jessica Luther, author of Unsportsmanlike Conduct: College Football and the Politics of Rape.

According to the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network, positive consent is: asking questions like “Is this OK?”, or using physical and verbal cues to let the other person know you’re comfortable taking things to the next level. Lack of consent is: “refusing to acknowledge no,” assuming activities like kissing gives permission for more, or assuming you have permission to engage in sex because of previous sexual contact.

“Consent is enthusiastic. Sex is an activity where someone has to be willing and comfortable,” said Nubia Pena, the Advocacy and Prevention Training Specialist from the Utah Coalition Against Sexual Assault.

Yet, the legal definition of consent varies from state to state. According to sections of Utah Criminal Code 76-5-406, “Sexual assault offenses against the victim without consent of the victim includes: the victim expresses lack of consent through words or conduct, the actor is able to overcome the victim through the actual application of physical force or violence, the actor knows the victim is unconscious, unaware that the act is occurring, or physically unable to resist, the actor intentionally impaired the power of the victim to appraise or control [their] conduct by administering any substance without the victim’s knowledge,” etc.

While consent appears to be complicated, it is quite simple. If someone gives verbal or physical cues that they are uncomfortable, they are not giving consent. If they are not actively participating in any of the activities, they are not giving consent. If they give in to pressure, it is not consent. No means no and the lack of a no does not mean yes.


If you or anyone you know has been a victim of sexual assault, call Student Health Services at 801-863-8876 for crisis counseling or the National Sexual Assault Hotline at 800-656-4673.