Sexual Assault Awareness Month Diaries: Consent by Amanda Edinam Ahiadormey

April is Sexual Awareness Month. What better time is there to discuss the issue of consent?

It has been tricky to really define consent. Granted, Section 14 of Act 29 may outline and highlight some provisions in relation to consent, but some argue that it needs a little more interpretation.

Should consent be express? Implied? How do you know that one has really given you their permission?

Section 14(h) says that a person shall not be prejudiced by the invalidity of any consent if he did not know, and could not by the exercise of reasonable diligence have known, of the invalidity.

There are certain myths associated with rape and sexual assault and sexual harassment such as expecting the victim to fight back, or to immediately report if they did not give consent.

How can you tell if a person has given consent?

The truth is that just as everyone reacts differently to different situations, someone could freeze and become unresponsive to your actions out of shock and fear instead of screaming, biting and kicking to show they do not approve.

There is the question of ‘what were you doing there in the first place?’, and this is rather unfortunate, because walking into a room does not mean consenting to everything that will happen in that room from the minute you enter till you leave.

There is the very disturbing argument of ‘why were you dressed that way?’ which I find very primitive because how does a person’s choice of clothes scream out that they are open to being sexually assaulted or harassed or raped? Under what circumstances do articles of clothing get their own voice, and at what point do humans hear clothes say, ‘they must be okay with it if they are dressed that way’.

Before trying to plead the excuse of mistake of fact and saying you understood the situation to automatically mean consent, remember that Section 14(h) implores you to exercise reasonable diligence to know if the consent is valid. How about really asking the person on the receiving end of what you are about to do, ‘Are you okay with it if I do this?’ ‘Can I do this?’

Asking may destroy the moment in your mind, but at least, it saves you. It is important to take reasonable steps to really ascertain the consent of a person with regards to every sexual action. At the end of the day, the law is on the side of the victim if you did not take reasonably diligent steps to ensure consent was valid.