‘Consent,’ ‘affirmative consent’ definitions debated when collecting sexual assault statistics

Tatiana Parafiniuk-Talesnick

The Collegian would like to inform its readers that the content in this article may trigger those affected by sexual assault.

October is nationally recognized as Domestic Violence Awareness Month, and the Women and Gender Advocacy Center is referring to it as Relationship Violence Awareness Month.

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With this topic in mind, the linguistics surrounding the definition of consent have sparked conversation. There is currently a national discussion around the topic of sexual violence that aims to differentiate between “consent” and “affirmative consent.”

On the Colorado State University campus, the two are synonymous, according to Kathy Sisneros, the director of the WGAC.

Mattie Becker, a junior science education major, looks online at WGAC's Consent 101 for ways on how to ask for consent.
Mattie Becker, a junior science education major, looks online at the WGAC’s Consent 101 for ways on how to ask for consent. (Photo Credit: Maria Nateras.)

“Consent is consent is consent,” Sisneros said. 

The Association of American Universities (AAU) released a Campus Climate Survey on Sexual Assault and Sexual Misconduct Sept. 21. The survey was based on responses from 150,000 students at 27 universities. 

CSU did not participate in the AAU survey. The University conducts its surveys regarding campus climate and sexual misconduct individually, according to Sisneros.

The AAU survey states that 23.1 percent of female undergraduate student respondents has experienced sexual assault or sexual misconduct due to threats of physical force or incapacitation. More than 63 percent of student respondents believe that a report of sexual assault or sexual misconduct would be taken seriously by campus officials, according to the survey.

The organization Stop Abusive and Violent Environments states that a major flaw in the survey is the use of the word “affirmative consent” as opposed to just consent.

“‘Affirmative consent’ requires more action than just consent, which should of course take place for all sexual activity — it requires a type of ongoing, affirmatively stated consent,” said Gina Lauterio, the policy project director for SAVE. “Basically, mandating the different ways that students have to show consent in order to not be criminals.”

Only 15 of the 27 universities included in the AAU survey had an affirmative consent definition in their policy. 

“(The AAU survey is) incorrectly, grossly overstating the amount of “sexual misconduct” that would have occurred on each campus,” Lauterio said. 

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The WGAC will spend the month focusing on interpersonal violence, education and cultivating healthy relationships by providing students with resources and tools. This month of awareness brings to light a national discussion regarding the way the country’s government, college campuses and culture treat the issues of relationship violence, as well as sexual assault and misconduct.

“AAU undertook this initiative to assist our universities in their ongoing efforts to address sexual assault and sexual misconduct on campus,” said Hunter Rawlings, president of AAU. “Our universities are working to ensure their campuses are safe places for students. The primary goal of the survey is to help them better understand the experiences and attitudes of their students with respect to this challenge.”

The AAU survey states that 11.7 percent of student respondents reported experiencing non-consensual sexual contact by threats of physical force or incapacitation since enrolling at their university.

SAVE has been critiqued by organizations and newsgroups such as Right Wing Watch, MSNBC, Huffington Post and the Southern Poverty Law Center for its stance on domestic abuse and its approach toward sexual assault. The SAVE website provides a list of articles evaluating the legitimacy of the survey — including articles from the New York Post and the National Review.

Sisneros said that on the CSU campus, consent and affirmative consent are the same.

“Consent isn’t a one-time thing,” said Sisneros. “Consent is cooperation in act and attitude, exercise of free will and knowledge of what’s happening. It does require and ongoing check-in at every stage of sexual activity.”

Resources for victims of sexual assault on the Colorado State University campus include the Women and Gender Advocacy Center and the 24-hour Victim Assistance Team, which is available to assist victims of sexual assault and interpersonal violence.

The 24-hour Sexual Assault Hotline is (970) 492-4242.

The Sexual Assault Victim Advocate Center provides resources to victims affected by sexual violence.

Go here for more information about the WGAC’s Relationship Violence Awareness Month

Collegian Reporter Tatiana Talesnick-Parafiniuk can be reached at news@collegian.com or on Twitter @TatianaSophiaPT.