In recognition of Sexual Assault Awareness Month, the National Sexual Violence Resource Center is utilizing the theme of “I Ask” and taking the time in the month of April to focus on the concept of consent to raise awareness around sexual violence and teach why consent is important.
While we are amidst a public health crisis and we see the entire world practicing physical distancing as a way to prevent the spread of COVID-19, this is an additionally important time to discuss consent and boundaries. As our daily routines change and move most of our interactions online, we might need to revisit our previous expectations with one another, reset boundaries, and learn how to ask for consent in different formats.
When I mention boundaries, I’m talking about the guidelines that we establish and communicate to set expectations, responsibilities, and limits for ourselves and those around us. Sometimes we run into barriers when setting up boundaries because of fear, guilt, and shame. We might find ourselves afraid that someone will be upset with us, feel guilty for telling someone no or not being available when they need it, or shameful that we are unable to balance what we need and what others need. While these feelings are very normal, we must keep in mind that we cannot pour from an empty cup, so taking care of ourselves allows us to take care of others. While there is no right or wrong way to set these boundaries, it is important we are making intentional and consistent choices about them. Without healthy boundaries, we often find ourselves frustrated, tired, and uncomfortable. And while we are experiencing various amounts of change around us, healthy boundaries are even more important.
How do we go about setting healthy boundaries? This is a moment where we need to think about consent. It is important to remember that as we are changing our routine, getting to know new people, continuing to grow with loved ones, and experiencing the world around us, we may need to reset boundaries and check-in with each other. It is at this point where we need to remember that boundaries and consent go hand in hand.
Consent starts with recognizing that our bodies belong to us and we have sole authority over our own bodies. Consent requires us to think about what we are doing, how we are doing it, and how our behavior impacts others. Checking in with each other and gaining permission ensures this is mutual and we are not making assumptions about another person’s feelings. We are free to determine, consistently and repeatedly, if, how, when, where, how often, and how long we touch, interact, and communicate regardless of the context. Consent also recognizes that methods of communication, affection, stimulation, and engagement that were once consensual are subject to continual, reflexive re-evaluation, revision, and revocation.
As we move to mostly digital connections during physical distancing, you may need to re-evaluate expectations, boundaries, and check-in further, with yourself and those around you. Keep in mind the following:
Just because technology connects us 24/7, does not mean that we are or need to be always available. Setting boundaries of when and how to communicate with those around you may be important as you are transitioning.
- Do not Disturb on iPhones prevent notifications from coming through during a specific time.
- You can let people know that you are doing work at home during a specific time and will be unavailable.
- If someone calls or texts you, wait to respond until you are ready or able to.
- Check in to see how the person you are communicating with likes to have conversations digitally and what is a safe form of communication for them. Now that we are home, it might not be possible to talk on the phone due to privacy concerns, but direct messaging on social media might still be okay.
Remember consent should be part of all of your interactions whether it is face to face or digital. Consider how your actions might make another person feel and ask questions.
Think about how you want to divide your space and be able to separate yourself from those around you. This could look like only doing schoolwork in a specific section of the room or reserving a specific amount of time each day for a self-care or hobby activity.
Remember to be respectful of boundaries others are putting up, even if they might be upsetting to you. Give yourself the time to process your own emotions as well. Everyone is different with what they like and need, and while you might not feel the same way, it is important to still respect how others feel and take it into consideration.
Setting boundaries can be difficult, but these tips might help:
Think about privacy and access
- How much availability of yourself do you want to give to others?
- What would you like to stay private and what are you open with sharing with others?
Utilize clear communication:
- Check-in about how someone else is feeling
- Clarify your own feelings
- Utilize I-statements
- Clearly identify actions that all parties are asking to be done
- Ask for consent to the boundary
- Create a plan if the boundaries are broken
Know your limits:
- What do you need to be successful?
- When do you start to feel drained and unable to proceed forward?
Sometimes, despite setting boundaries, consent is not respected and we see our homes become more dangerous than they are safe. UCI CARE is committed to supporting students and staff who are currently at home with an abuser and need to create a safety plan. Please see our previous post about resources for people who are experiencing abuse at home.