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Consent Is Not Cancelled
Growing up, I spent a lot of time watching and reading science fiction. It felt so out of reach, so futuristically fantastical that there was no way any of the things I was reading and watching could come true in my lifetime, and that was why I felt—and still feel—so drawn to it. Stepping into another world and into nearly unfathomable lives is fascinating to me. But lately, I’ve felt like I’m walking in a new and foreign world, completely void of the amazing thrill that fictional ones give me.
With COVID-19 taking a brutal hit around the world, action taken against it has ultimately been massively life-altering and traumatic. The province of British Columbia is in a state of emergency, we are all being recommended to wear cotton masks when we leave our homes, and are practicing social distancing to help flatten the curve so—eventually—we can get back to something similar to the lives we lead before the pandemic struck. It’s changed so much of life as we know it that hardly anything feels the same, hence feeling like I’m wandering in a brand new world.
The thing is, though, it is not a brand new world. It’s a changed world, to something we have to take day by day as a collective, but everything that makes up the landscape to our world is still the same. The trees in my backyard are the same, and they’re blooming the same way they do every Spring. So are the trees in my neighbour’s lawns across the street. A lot of us can still walk down our streets as usual, when the weather is nice and sunny. It's our social climate that has changed, already leaving lasting impacts on us that will most likely take on ripple effects as we grow past this. It's a strange time to be in, but even with our changed social climate we have to remember: not everything is cancelled.
While social distancing and staying home on your own, or with your family, roommates, or partners, consent still needs to be practiced as usual. Along with that, just because we are at home with our partner and more "available", does not mean we are always consenting to engage in sexual activity. Remember to ask the question, listen to the response, and respect the answer.
However, with social distancing comes more relationships needing to be maintained—or created—digitally. The Internet is such a wonderful tool for this; we are connected without even needing to be near each other, and that gives us a chance to stand together, to feel less alone, and to maintain our sense of belonging. While often conversations and events occurring online don’t feel quite as real as the ones we have in person, the effects of both in-person and online interactions carry the same weight. It is important, in all instances of online interaction, to ask for consent where possible.
With the Internet, our social interactions are not completely cancelled. And neither is consent. Asking for consent online can be tricky, though. It’s all quite new, and often difficult to navigate effectively. But consent is crucial and we must practice it, when folks are already struggling to manage a difficult and unknown situation or not. We all deserve being asked for consent, and we all deserve our answers to be respected.
To help engage in asking for and navigating consent during social distancing, I’ve amassed some tips to help guide us through this together:
Make sure you’re setting your own boundaries first. What are you comfortable with? What do or don’t you want to do? Be firm with your boundaries, and be sure to establish them when necessary.
Check in with the people you talk to about their boundaries. It may not feel like you’re exactly asking for their consent before engaging in different activities, but giving them a safe space to discuss their needs, as well as respecting what they outline, is a great way to practice consent within healthy boundaries.
Many folks aren’t in lockdown with their partners, which can put a strain on maintaining relationships. Make sure you’re strengthening communication with your partner, letting them know your boundaries, that you’re there for them, and ask them how they want to continue your relationship during this time. Ensure you’re both on the same page, and that no one is pressuring any party into any action.
If you want to engage in sexting, make sure all parties are consenting. Afrosexology has a great post about sexting and social distancing here.
Dating apps such as Tinder, Hinge, Bumble etc, can be great ways to connect with people, even if you aren’t looking for a relationship. Remember to set your boundaries and how far you want to go with someone here, too.
If someone sends you a photograph or video of themselves, do not share that image with others without their consent. Do not save a copy of the image without the consent of the person.
If you receive a picture or video of a third party (such as a friend sending you a picture of their partner), delete it, do not forward it, and educate the sender that it is not okay to send photos of other people without their consent.
Loveisrespect.org has a great resource for digital relationships and boundary setting here.
Try to text friends and family before calling or video calling them. Phone and video calls can be overwhelming, or they may simply not be up for it, and giving people a choice is a great way of practicing consent.
When engaging with people, do not take pictures/audio/video or record anyone without their consent.
Do not post online meeting pictures or text conversations without asking for consent to do so first. Your friend, colleague, professor or family member may have said or did something funny or awesome you want to share, but they might not want others to see it.
Consent is ongoing and you and others have the right to change their mind.
Staying connected is important when living like we are at the moment with the COVID-19 pandemic. Sticking together, building community, and putting faith in one another is how we can get through this together, unified. Our social landscape is changing, and events and trips and gatherings throughout the year are being cancelled, but community togetherness isn’t, and neither is consent. Practice asking for consent, invite people in your life to practise consent, and help build a community where we ask, listen, and respect at all times.
For more information about consent, and Consent Matters at SFU, check out the SVSPO's page on Consent here.
About the author: Willow Leach is in her 3rd year studying Communications at SFU, and finishing her first Co-op position as the Education Program Assistant at the SVSPO. She is passionate about social justice topics of all kinds, and takes hold of moments to provide education on them, meeting people where they are at.