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What Is Consent

Consent is when someone verbally agrees, gives permission, or says "yes" to sexual activity with someone else. Consent is always freely given and all people in a sexual situation must feel that they are able to say "yes" or "no" at any point during sexual activity. This means that silence, passivity, submission, or the lack of verbal or physical resistance (including the lack of a “no”) should not be understood as consent.

Consent represents the cornerstone of respectful and healthy intimate relationships. Northwestern University strongly encourages its community members to communicate; however, we recognize that not everyone communicates in the same way, especially around issues of sex. The best way to be clear about consent is to ask. Don’t be afraid to talk about sex and communicate your boundaries, wants, and needs. Encourage your partner to do the same.

It is always the requirement of the individual initiating sexual contact (or undertaking a new type of sexual activity) to ensure that consent is present before acting and is present during sexual activity. Under Illinois law, a person must be at least 17 years of age in order to give consent; it is illegal in Illinois for a person 18 or older to commit sexual acts on a person under the age of 18 if they have a position of authority or trust over the victim.

Consent is not present when an individual is incapacitated, voluntarily or involuntarily, due to age (see above) or physical condition (sleep, lack of consciousness, alcohol, drugs), or disability that impairs the individual’s ability to provide consent.