Consent, Assertiveness, and Boundaries

Consent, Assertiveness, and Boundaries:

TRUE STORY from a Pirate-Themed Camping Event 

It was warm night at an established ship (camp) where the crew was very familiar with each other.  They confirmed and expressed each others’ boundaries around consent to get grabby with each other like the respectful yet rowdy, familiar pirate friends they all are.  Sari was new to the group, and she watched as evening progressed and the alcohol flowed.  Eventually someone asked her if it was okay if he picked her up.  Knowing that her friends are very familiar with each other, and wanting to be part of the fun, she said yes, but she had a sinking feeling in her gut as soon as she did.  

She quietly endured the moment, and the party went on.  It bugged her though.   She didn’t want this guy’s hands on her whether in innocent play or not.  What was she supposed to say? She realized she was no longer enjoying herself.  She excused herself and went to bed, forgoing the rest of the festivities.  In hindsight, she wished she had said no, but she feared being seen as a party pooper, or worse, a bitch.   

The gentleman in this scenario asked for and received consent to pick her up.  He was respectful (and playful) and caused no physical harm.   He did what he was supposed to do.  Sari is not a victim.  She is a woman who gave consent for something she didn’t want, and regretted it later.  Neither person is in the wrong here.  

I want to share some communication tools that may have been helpful here:

1. Self-Awareness:  Sometimes we don’t know in the moment what we learn in hindsight.  Sari didn’t recognize that her body tensed up at the request.   What happens to you when you experience discomfort at someone’s request? You might lean back.  You might tense up.  You might feel a reaction in your gut or a weight on your chest. Your heart might beat faster as adrenaline activates in your body.  Know your reactions in the moment, and you’ll be better able to judge quickly how you want to respond.
1a. Awareness of others‘ body language and reactions is important as well, on the giving and receiving end of consent!

2. Fear of Judgment:  “What other people think of me is none of my business.” Eleanor Roosevelt  The opinions of others belong to them.  Be true to yourself so you don’t have to live with regret over “going along to get along.” BITCH is an acronym- “Baby, I’m Taking Control Here!”  Take control, it doesn’t make you a difficult person, it makes you an assertive one.

3. Fear of Confrontation or Persecution: Like judgments and opinions, reactions belong to each of us as well.  We need to learn how to deal with confrontation head on, and matter-of-fact.  Take a breath, use calm and controlled body language, and offer your boundaries early and often.

4. Assertive Speech: (1.) address or name the behavior (2.) offer a reason why it’s a problem, even if it’s “because I don’t want to”, and (3.) offer an alternate behavior.

5. Setting boundaries: “you can pick me up but you may not throw me over your shoulder.”
5a. Changing your mind: “Yes, wait, actually no.”  back to 3 steps to assertiveness (1 address the behavior) I don’t want you to pick me up.  (2 give a reason why) I’m uncomfortable with that.  (3. Alternate behavior) You can give me  high five!

This post is about boundary setting and assertiveness.  It does not address criminal behaviors.  In situations where a crime happened, especially sexual assault, there is help.  The Sexual Assault Resource Center is a 24-hour help line with caring and understanding people on the other end, ready to help you talk it out, find resources, or what ever you need- they are there for you.  That number is 800-656-HOPE.