“I Ask” and the Importance of Consent

“I Ask” is the theme for Sexual Assault Awareness Month for 2020; image via the National Sexual Violence Resource Center

April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month (SAAM) and Child Abuse Prevention Month (CAPM), not just at Hope House of South Central Wisconsin, but all over our nation. Last year’s national theme for SAAM, #IAsk, is of such great importance that the organization who sets a national plan for SAAM, the National Sexual Violence Resource Center, decided to repeat the theme for 2020. #IAsk is about the importance of consent — whether that is asking for affection, intimacy, or even about digital boundaries, like asking to share a photo or tag someone online. Consent is an enthusiastic, mutual agreement — we like to call it the “Enthusiastic Yes.” Asking for consent is a skill learned over time; we hope you take some time this SAAM for a quick refresher.

Teaching and role-modeling consent at an early age can help prevent sexual assault. Helping kids to ask for consent and accept rejection in everyday situations builds a foundation for them to have healthy relationships. Children learn to ask for consent to play with a friend’s toy, share a bag of chips, or borrow a movie. At school, students learn to ask a friend if it’s okay to give them a hug goodbye, borrow a pencil, or play together on the playground — and then need to respect the answer they receive. Consent is part of our everyday life and the choices we make with others, and can start small, at any age. It is not as complicated a concept as some may think.

This year Hope House is asking you to ask for consent, and then listen and respect the response you receive. When asking for consent, remember to ask without force, pressure, manipulation, or threats. Look for enthusiasm in voice and body language — that’s the “Enthusiastic Yes” we mentioned earlier, and there should be no doubt there for either of you. Remember to ask for consent every time. Even if someone has consented in the past, there should never be assumptions made about what they want to do in that moment. Ask for consent in a way that makes it clear you’re okay with them saying no, and give them space to do so if they need it. If they say, “um… I guess” or they say nothing at all, that is definitely not an “Enthusiastic Yes.” You should then take a moment and check in: how are they feeling? Suggest another way to spend time together: like watching a movie or hanging out with friends. If they tense up, pull away, or are quiet and seem distant, they are uncomfortable, and you should stop. If that happens, or if they say “no” outright, that is okay. Respecting the answer, no matter what it is, builds trust and safety in relationships and helps prevent sexual assault.

People have the right to set boundaries and say no to sex and affection at any time. Children and teens have the right to learn what consent is and how to ask for it. We all have a responsibility to respect each other’s boundaries. Let’s get consent right this year.

If you or someone you know have experienced unwanted sexual contact, that is not okay. We want you to know that we support you and we are here for you. You can call Hope House’s 24-hour, confidential helpline at 800–584–6790 for free support and resources, or email help@hopehousescw.org. To learn more about consent or any of Hope House’s services for survivors and their support network, visit www.HopeHouseSCW.org.

Hope House Team at
Hope House of South Central Wisconsin

Hope House of South Central Wisconsin’s mission is to prevent abuse and provide support ​to victims of domestic and sexual violence.