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Consent

Northwestern Definition of Consent

Sexual violence occurs when there is a lack of consent. According to the Northwestern University code of conduct, consent is defined as “a knowing and voluntary agreement to engage in specific sexual activity at the time of the activity”. In order to be valid, consent must be “knowing, voluntary, active, present and ongoing”:

Knowing:

Voluntary:

Active:

Present and ongoing:

“Consent is not present when an individual does not have the capacity to give consent, voluntarily or involuntarily, due to age (generally 17 in Illinois), physical condition, or disability that impairs the individual’s ability to give consent. Reasons why one could lack capacity to give consent due to a physical condition include, but are not limited to, consumption of drugs or alcohol (voluntarily or involuntarily) or being in a state of unconsciousness, sleep, or other state in which the person is unaware that sexual activity is occurring. Incapacitation may look different for different individuals, but it is always the responsibility of the person initiating sexual activity to make sure their partner(s) are consenting.”

These policy definitions of consent are important to establish expected and unacceptable behaviors for the Northwestern community, and ensure that all community members are share common language.

Communicating Consent

Alcohol and Drugs

A person who is asleep or mentally or physically incapacitated, either through the effect of drugs or alcohol or for any other reason, is not capable of giving valid consent, even if they verbally agree to sexual activity. According to the Northwestern University Code of Conduct, “Reasons why one could lack capacity to give consent due to a physical condition include, but are not limited to, consumption of drugs or alcohol (voluntarily or involuntarily) or being in a state of unconsciousness, sleep, or other state in which the person is unaware that sexual activity is occurring.”

Alcohol impacts everyone differently, which means signs of incapacitation may be different as well. Things to ask to determine if someone is incapacitated:

Consumption of alcohol is not an excuse for not getting consent and an intoxicated person will still be held responsible by Northwestern University for sexual misconduct. According to the Northwestern Student Handbook, “The use of alcohol and/or drugs by one or more of the parties involved will not be considered a mitigating factor in cases of alleged sexual assault. In fact, such use may be considered as an aggravating factor if the effect of such use is deemed to have made the complaining party incapable of giving consent.”

Drugs can also be given to someone in order to purposely incapacitate them and facilitate sexual assault. Sometimes these drugs are ingested unknowingly, like by slipping them into a drink when the person is not looking, or knowingly, like feeding someone alcoholic beverages until they are incapacitated. According to the U.S. Office on Women’s Health, alcohol is the most commonly used “date rape” drug, but others include Rohypnol (aka roofies), GHB, and Ketamine. These drugs are very powerful and can take effect very quickly (within 15-30 minutes). Symptoms of being drugged may include confusion, problems seeing, loss of consciousness, vomiting, loss of muscle control, sweating, and seizures. If you suspect you or someone you know has been drugged, call 911 and seek emergency assistance immediately, as some of these drugs can lead to serious medical complications.

Remember that Northwestern has an Amnesty through Responsible Action policy. To encourage students to take responsible action when necessary, the University will not hold students who take such action (for themselves or for others), or for whom such action is taken, accountable for violations of the University’s alcohol or other drug policies (with the exception of driving under the influence).