Blog  Understanding the Language of Consent

Understanding the Language of Consent

By Madison Dresler

When people hear terms like sexual violence or assault they might feel confused about what these terms actually mean. Every 98 seconds an American is sexually assaulted, which is an average of 321,500 per year. Of those victims, 15% are between the ages of 12-17, and 54% are 18-34. Even though this is a large scale problem, few people fully understand the topic. NFTY is a part of our lives at a very influential point where education and prevention have the power to shape the way we think about preventing sexual violence. Learning and understanding these terms and issues at this time will create more positive outcomes during young adulthood and the future. Our fellow NFTYites could be the people enacting legislation one day.

Using key terms and vocabulary incorrectly is problematic when discussing these issues because incorrect terminology can change the circumstances, punishments, or effect of the act. When talking about sexual assault, people often need to explain the terms they are using during the conversation – this can make having these conversations even more difficult and confusing. Whether you want to be able to explain the different aspects of sexual violence prevention to someone, or just better understand what others are saying about the issue, here are some key terms you should know:

  • Coercion – coercion is when someone uses manipulation or pressure to intimidate someone into doing something. Saying “yes” to someone out of coercion does not equate consent.
  • Consent – consent means permission for something to happen. Consent should never be assumed based upon any factor, including the clothing someone wears, their silence, or their body language. Consent is clear, mutual, and unambiguous; past activity or agreement doesn’t imply consent for future events. Consent can be revoked at any point.
  • Drug-Facilitated Assault – drug-facilitated assault is when sexual assault occurs while the victim is incapacitated and cannot consent. Drugs such as GHB and Rohypnol (roofies/the date rape drug) are included, but the most common cause is alcohol.
  • Gender-Based Violence- though anyone can experience sexual violence, this term represents the fact that there is a higher rate of assault towards women, gender nonconforming, and transgender individuals. 90% of adult rape victims are female and 21% of transgender and nonconforming individuals have been sexually assaulted at some point.
  • Gender Inequity – gender inequity is a term used to refer to the disproportionate amounts of power and opportunity between genders in society.
  • Incapacitated – incapacitation is when a person is incapable of consenting to sexual activity. Someone can be incapacitated due to drugs, alcohol, sleep, unconsciousness, or psychological disturbance. Incapacitation is different from intoxication, because an incapacitated person is unable to make or express decisions in the way that an intoxicated individual can.
  • Patriarchy – patriarchy is the ideological system in which masculine individuals (cisgender men) hold power and privilege over others. They have social privilege and moral authority. (Comes from the Latin root patr which means father).
  • Perpetrator – a perpetrator is someone who commits an act of sexual violence.
  • Rape – rape is a legal term which is defined differently based on where you are located. It is most commonly defined as penetration with force (or threat of force) all happening against the will of the victim (without consent).
  • Rape Culture – rape culture is a set of deep beliefs that normalize sexual violence. It is frequently demonstrated through media, language, and public policy. Rape culture promotes sexual objectification and coercion.
  • Sexual Assault – sexual assault is any unwanted or forced sexual touch or action.
  • Sexual Harassment – sexual harassment is any behavior that is interpreted by the recipient to be of a sexual nature and is unwanted. This is often overlooked due to rape culture normalizing sexual objectification.
  • Sexual Violence – sexual violence is a loose term used to describe sexual harassment, assault, rape, or a similar term.
  • Trauma – trauma is a response to an emotionally harmful incident or series of incidents, including sexual violence.
  • Victim – a victim is someone who experienced a crime. It is a legal term and is often used for people who have experienced sexual . Many also use the term “survivor.”