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On consent and intoxicaton

Under Canadian law, people can’t consent to sexual activities when they’re drunk. Having sex with someone who’s intoxicated is then considered a non-consensual criminal act.

As a moral issue, consent seems pretty black and white. All parties have to agree to the activity and may decide, at any point, they no longer consent and wish to stop.
But when alcohol enters the mix, things get even blurrier.
On Oct. 23 the Avalon Sexual Assault Centre worked with other groups on campus to put on a workshop about consent and intoxication. Here’s what came out of the discussion.
Halifax is home to over 31,000 university students. It also has the highest number of bars per capita of any city in Canada. With this comes a hookup culture. We agreed that for many students, sexual relationships are usually associated with some form of intoxication.
Under Canadian law, people can’t consent to sexual activities when they’re drunk. Having sex with someone who’s intoxicated is then considered a non-consensual criminal act.
But it’s not that simple. According to a Statistics Canada survey conducted in 2009, 88 per cent of sexual assaults in Canada in 2009 weren’t reported to police.
Because questions involving sexual assault are often personally, culturally, and legally unclear, we know that those who survive it often experience victim blaming. The feelings of guilt and shame can become even stronger when a person is blamed for being intoxicated.
The discussion
The group felt the need for change. We don’t want a community, a city, or a legal system that perpetuates sexualized violence and rape culture.
People should not experience blame, guilt, or shame about being intoxicated when they experience sexual assault of any kind.
Finding the words to talk about sexual assault and consent is not always an easy task. Statements like “no means no” and “consent is sexy” are often oversimplifications that miss the nuances of a broader issue.
The answers to questions of how to eliminate different forms of assault involving intoxication are also challenging, and our group recognized this.
We did agree that although people and situations are unique, decision-making comes down to essential values: compassion, respect, and communication.
On one hand, conversation around consent becomes trickier when one or both partners are intoxicated. When it comes to the legal system, the process is problematic in this way. It is often very imbalanced and unjust.
But we know that receiving consent isn’t just about gaining access to another person’s body. It’s about taking part in an ongoing conversation about desires and pleasures; it’s about mutual trust and communication.
On the other hand, then, consent is as straightforward as ever. It starts with discussion, empathy, and mutual respect. And really, it should end there.
 

By David J. Shuman

David is a second-year journalism student at King's, is engagement/news editor of The Watch, and a copy editor of The Pigeon. He writes on student politics, campus happenings, and school news. 

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