It has never been so important to teach our children about consent. But in order to do that, we need to fully understand it ourselves.
The issue of consent can seem like a grey area, with mixed messages in our culture and media.
Anecdotal evidence from young people reveals a lack of clarity and misinformation around consent, as well as internalization of negative attitudes towards victims in regard to sexual harassment and assault. The idea of victim-blaming is embedded in our media and our conversations, and young people absorb these societal attitudes from a very young age.
Coupled with this, many young people grow up with the message that talking about sex is shameful and embarrassing. When it comes to seeking and giving consent, they lack the language and communication skills.
So, what is consent?
In its simplest form, consent refers to an agreement that is given to something or permission for something to happen. In Irish law, sexual consent is defined as follows: “A person consents to a sexual act if he or she freely and voluntarily agrees to engage in that act”.
However, it’s important to help young people understand consent in a broader context than just its relevance to sexual behaviour or to legal definitions.
Healthy relationships involve respecting healthy boundaries, having the communication skills to express our needs and to behave appropriately when the other is unable to meet our needs. In other words, consent is about safety, comfort and communication in relationships.
How to explain consent
Understanding consent in Irish Law: https://www.gov.ie/en/publication/28e12f-consent/
If you are concerned about a child or young person who may have been sexually assaulted, you can access support through the CARI Helpline (Lo Call 1890 92 4567), a specialized National service for those concerned about or affected by child sexual abuse.