Do You Know What Consent Looks Like?
When Sarah* showed up at Urgent Care you probably could not guess the reason for her visit. She looked a little nervous, maybe unsure of who to talk to and like she hadn’t really slept the night before. Sarah was asked why she was visiting and then the story came out. She was at a party last night, drank way too much and when she woke up her boyfriend’s friend was on top of her. She tried to push him off, and although she doesn’t remember much knows she would never have agreed to that. Sarah feels embarrassed; she has not told anyone including family and friends. What happened? Sarah was sexually assaulted, she did not give consent to have sex and now Sarah needs help.
You’ve probably heard a lot in the news about consent recently, with some high profile cases in the media. When we are talking about consent the issue sometimes gets confused. Did they say no? Were they drunk? They accepted the ride home so surely that was a yes?
Consent does not need to be confusing. Consent means partners agree to sexual activity (kissing, sexual touching and sexual intercourse are included) and everyone understands what they are agreeing to. Partners must get and give consent every time they have sex. When partners know what they are getting into and know that they can stop if they change their mind sex can be respectful, healthy and consensual. Sex without consent is sexual assault.
Sexual assault isn’t a topic people want to talk about but it happens. It can happen to anyone but when it does it is never the fault of the victim. Offenders are 100 per cent responsible for these crimes. Sometimes people will use drugs and alcohol to change people’s behaviour with the intention of taking advantage of them. It is important to remember that people cannot give consent if they are drunk or high, this is sexual assault.
My colleague Marcy Harris is a nurse on call with the Calgary Sexual Assault Response Team (CSART). Working with a team of doctors and social workers she is there for all kinds of sexual assault cases that have happened in the past 5 days. The CSART team is here for Sarah and anyone who has been sexually assaulted or thinks they may have been as sometimes people may not have a good recollection of what happened.
When someone has been sexually assaulted CSART nurses listen, examine someone for possible injuries and ask if the client would like to involve the police. Sometimes people do not seek medical help because they are worried about police involvement but it is the choice of the client to report or not. A medical examination is completed if the person wishes, treatment given if needed such as emergency contraception and STI testing and follow up care including counselling. By believing the client and helping them make choices about their care CSART empowers people after a very traumatic event.
Sexual assault happens and it is not a comfortable topic but we need to talk about. We need to talk to our children and teens to help them have healthy relationships. We need to discuss this with colleagues and friends when consent issues come up in the news. We can listen and believe someone when they tell us they have been sexually assaulted and get them help, even if the assault happened years ago.
A CSART nurse is on call in Calgary 24 hours a day, 365 days a year for all kinds of sexual assault cases that have occurred in the past 5 days.
Let’s talk about respectful, healthy relationships and consent so that we have safe and healthy communities. How will you talk to your friends, colleagues and families about consent?
*Name has been changed to protect patient confidentiality.