Consent - do you have it?

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Ashley J. Thum
  • 28th Bomb Wing Public Affairs
One word marks the boundary between normal sexual encounters and heinous sexual attacks - consent.

Whether verbal or nonverbal, consent is required when engaging in any sexual activity, and is the only thing that separates a willing participant from a victim.

Kelly Dominguez, 28th Bomb Wing Sexual Assault Prevention and Response coordinator, said it is important to understand what consent means in order to fully comprehend what sexual assault is.

"Consent is defined as words or overt acts indicating a freely given agreement to the sexual conduct at issue by a competent person," Dominguez explained.

She said consent for one act does not constitute acceptance of others - nor does a previous dating or sexual relationship, or what a person may be wearing, override the need for consent. Using force, the threat of force, or other scare tactics that may cause a person to appear submissive are also unacceptable alternatives for clear consent.

"The best way to avoid any confusion about consent is clear communication with a prospective sexual partner," Dominguez said. "Either someone has consented - willingly and actively without coercion - or they have not. If it is unclear whether a prospective partner has provided consent, then that person has not provided consent."

Capt. Mike Avidano, 28th BW assistant staff judge advocate, emphasized the fact that if someone commits a sexual act with someone who has not given consent, then a sexual assault has occurred. He explained there are criminal laws applicable to both military members and civilians to punish sexual offenders and to help protect their victims.

"These laws define certain situations where consent cannot be granted legally," Avidano said. "For example, under the Uniform Code of Military Justice, a person who is asleep, unconscious or mentally incompetent cannot consent to sex with a military member. Also, depending on the circumstances, a person may legally be found unable to consent to sex due to impairment by alcohol, drugs and/or other intoxicating substances."

Although the perpetrators and victims of sexual assault are often easily defined, Avidano added context plays an integral role in determining the outcome of a case.

"It is impossible to define with legal clarity all possible actions one can take that would be considered criminal," Avidano said. "Sexual assault cases always involve a unique set of complicated facts. However, military and civilian authorities aggressively investigate these crimes and prosecute perpetrators."

Dominguez added that attacks are not always preventable, but victims shouldn't blame themselves.

"It's very important to focus attention on the actions of perpetrators of sexual assaults rather than the actions of the victims," Dominguez said. "If you or someone you know has been affected by sexual violence, it's not your fault."

For more information, or to report sexual assault, call the SAPR office at (605) 385-5233 or the 24/7 reporting line at (605) 385-SARC (7272).