Picture sent, delivered. Panic sets in, “Should I have done that? What if they post it online? What if they share it to their friends? Well I blocked most of my face, they can’t tell it’s me.”
This year’s Sexual Assault Awareness Month has the theme “I Ask” and it is centered on consent.
Simply put, consent is seeking permission for something to happen. You can either seek consent from someone or give consent.
In today’s world, social media has made consent seem less important for intimate digital interactions, especially with the easy accessibility into a person’s personal space. If someone willingly allows you into their private space, tells you or shows you things, that means they trust you and consider you worthy of the knowledge. Keeping and protecting this privilege is where most people fall short. It is never okay to tell or show something someone else told you or showed you, without their consent. If they wanted everyone to know, they would have put it out on social media.
At that moment you decide to share the photo or message with someone else, whether by sending it or just showing it to them on your electronic device, you have violated someone’s privacy. This applies to everything. It is for this reason that illegal recordings are dismissed in the court.
In the same vein, prior to sending sexually explicit messages or photos to a person, you must first seek their consent. Sending suggestive photos and messages without a person’s consent amounts to sexual harassment. Consent for any sexual activity must be sought, whether offline or online. In order for this consent to be given or received there are certain requirements that must be met.
So what then do you look for when it comes to sexual consent?
Age of consent
Consent can only exist where the participants are of legal or adult age in their area of residence. In Nigeria, this age is 18 years. This means that engaging in online sexual activity with or sharing the explicit photos of anyone under the age of 18 is illegal and punishable by law, regardless of the age of the accused.
Conscious and aware
Any parties consenting to sexual activity online or offline must be in a state where they are completely aware of the situation. This naturally means that people who are under the effect of any psychogenic substance or who are otherwise incapacitated by physical or cognitive challenges that would affect their awareness of the situation cannot consent.
Whatever the plan, it must be clearly communicated and understood by all parties involved. It is important to note that consent does not mean informing one party about the plan; the planner must ensure that the other party completely understands what the plan is in order to be able to consent. For example, if the planner explains a plan in English to the other party, who doesn’t completely understand English and only understood 60% of what was said, the second party cannot consent to the plan even though they say yes, because they do not fully understand.
The parties agreeing to digital sexual activity must understand clearly the extent of the planned activity. Consent for one activity does not mean consent for another, no matter how ‘natural’ it felt. At every stage consent should be sought and received.
If someone plans a sexual activity with another person and gains consent for that, that consent is only valid for that activity at the preset time and place. This means that should there be any change in venue or time, consent would have to be sought again.
There are many situations where there is a power imbalance between parties planning a sexual activity. This is a potentially dangerous situation as the onus lies on the person in authority to ensure that there is no coercion, implied or otherwise, for the other party to consent to sexual activity. The moment it is forced, it becomes rape. In addition, if a person feels and acts unsure or gives answers such as “maybe,” consent has not been given.
Consent can be withdrawn at any time without fear or negative consequences. The situation, place, time, previous agreement, initiator, gifts given, etc., all do not matter and should not affect the ability of one party to withdraw consent at any point. Once one party says no or changes their mind in any way, all sexual activity should cease immediately; not in five minutes or two seconds, but immediately.
In summary, consent for sexual activity is enthusiastic and freely given and received between adults who are conscious and aware of their situation; adults who understand precisely the activity planned. Someone saying no doesn’t equal the end of the world. Remember to seek consent before every sexual act.