No one really talked to me about consent when I was a kid. I just did as I was told, or what adults asked of me, no questions asked. Honestly, I don’t even think I recall ever hearing the word until I was in my 20s. Even then, it was mostly tied to discussions of rape and rape culture. Those conversations are important, of course, but a violation of that degree isn’t the only way one can ignore your consent. Whether you realize it or not, there are lots of subtle ways in which people violate your consent every day, usually to the point that you either don't notice or become somewhat immune.
Fortunately, these days parents are becoming much more aware of these subtleties and how they perpetuate a much larger problem. These seemingly innocuous actions exist in our language, permeate our culture, and dictate how we act as well as how we present ourselves. Violations of consent can be expressed with glances, put downs, or passive aggressive comments. They can even be done by people who think they’re being “nice” or “cute” or “friendly.” Some of the most troubling ways people violate our consent can be done with a smile on the perpetrator’s face, and many who end up engaging in these small-but-impactful actions don’t even realize what it is they’re doing or how they’re contributing to a society that would not allow us to make our own decisions.
Don’t believe me? See if any of these things apply to your daily life, then think about how they may or may not be sending a much larger, potentially dangerous message. Whether they're big or small violations, everyone deserves to have their consent respected without question. Everyone.
When People Keep Insisting On Doing Things For You
Imagine a friend volunteers to give you a ride home, but you’re really looking forward to walking home instead. They ask again if they can take you home, for whatever reason. You tell them once more you’d rather not. They continue to insist, and they might even call you "rude" or "difficult" for not taking them up on it. It feels lousy, doesn’t it? That’s what having your consent violated feels like.
When People Insist You Stay In And/Or Go Out
Ever have a night when you just want to stay in, but someone wants you to go to a party or bar hop or see a movie, instead? You’re tired, or maybe you have a case of debilitating cramps, or you have an early day the next morning. Whatever the case, when someone else pushes you into going out (or staying in, for that matter) without caring about how you feel about it, it breaks down your ability to say “no" and have your answer respected.
When People Violate Your Personal Space
There’s this concept of a personal bubble, an imaginary perimeter in which folks should not enter unless welcomed, that has (for the most part) been widely accepted by society. Unfortunately, some folks don’t seem to grasp that concept. They lean into your face as they talk. They walk right up to you to the point you feel the need to step back. It’s often a power move, an intimidation tactic that asserts "dominance" over someone else. Sadly, it often works (to the detriment of those who would rather keep a cool foot or two of space between them and the world).
When Someone Touches You Without Permission
It doesn’t matter if it’s a caress of your back or an impromptu kiss — you shouldn’t be touching people without their permission.
Look, I’m not saying you can’t give your child a kiss on the forehead when they’re being cute and snuggly. I’m not saying you can’t hug your mother hello as you may have always done, either. But when in doubt, or when you’re with someone you’re not usually touching, you should ask permission. More importantly, if someone tells you it makes them uncomfortable, or that they’d rather you didn’t touch them, respect that.
When You’re Subtly Coaxed Into Sex By A Partner
Many of us are guilty of this, even those of us who are well-versed in understanding rape culture and working to dismantle it.
For example, perhaps you thought it would be really sweet to surprise your significant other with sexy lingerie in the hopes they’re in the mood. Sure, some could argue that's adorable, but there's a motive to your gift and it comes with an expectation of sex your partner may feel obligated to uphold. Another is pushing yourself onto them, or vice versa, when they clearly are not in the mood and/or have already said they don’t feel like it. Even if you’re doing it in a “cute” way, it’s not cute at all.
When More Scope Than Initially Agreed Upon Is Added To Your Work
While this stems from my experience as a freelancer, it’s actually pertinent to everyone. Have you ever been asked to do something, like, say, wash a car, but then, in the middle of your task, you’re asked to give the inside a tidying up, too. Before you know it, "tidying up" turns into "detailing the entire car" which turns into a wax and, before you know it, what was one task has multiplied.
That’s called scope creep, and it happens everywhere. That’s also violating how much work you consented to in the first place. Worst of all is when you’re not compensated, or at the very least thanked, for all the additional work.
When Someone “Scares” Or “Surprises” You
This might seem silly, but some people don’t like the feeling of being surprised. Ever since I developed birth-related Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), I’ve been a jumpier person overall. As a result, I don’t take kindly to being randomly surprised when I nearly end up jumping out of my skin for even small reasons. It’s worst when the person scaring me thinks they’re just being “cute.”
When You’re Asked To Not Be So “Emotional” About A Situation
Always be weary of people who feel the need to mock your emotional reactions. This is a clear bully tactic, even if it’s used by those who don’t think they are bullies (or who don’t present in typical bully fashion). If you’re doing something that makes me sad or uncomfortable or makes me want to cry, I’m not “being emotional, "I'm reaction to a situation. It also might just be my way of trying to make it clear that I do not consent to whatever is going on.
When People Continue To Hit On You When You Act/Say You’re Not Interested
Finally, getting persistently hit on in any way, especially when you’ve made it clear you’re not interested, is definitely a violation of your consent. One example of this is the “nice guy” who continues to compliment you in hopes of wearing you down for a date. Another is simply being catcalled in the streets. These are unwarranted and unwanted advances.
Yes, it’s OK to tell someone you think they are beautiful, but if they say they’re not interested, or reply with a kind “thank you” and leave it at that, or any other similar response, just let it go. Don’t keep pushing your existence on them when they clearly don’t want that type of interaction.