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Consent and Bystander Information

Consent is the equivalent of approval, given freely, willingly, and knowingly, of each participant to each sexual involvement. Consent is an affirmative, conscious decision – indicated clearly by words or actions – to engage in mutually accepted sexual contact.


  • A person engaging in sexual contact by force, threat of force, or coercion has not consented to contact.
  • Lack of mutual consent is the crucial factor in any sexual misconduct case.
  • Consent to some form of sexual activity does not necessarily constitute consent to another form of sexual activity, even within the same initial consensual activity.
  • Consent to past sexual activity does not imply consent to future sexual activity.
  • Consent can be withdrawn at any time.
  • Consent to engage in sexual activity with one person does not imply consent to engage in sexual activity with another.
  • Silence without demonstrating permission does not constitute consent.
  • Consent CANNOT be given if a person’s ability to resist or consent is incapacitated because of a mental illness or physical condition (by alcohol or other drugs, unconsciousness, sleep, or blackout) or if there is a significant age or perceived power differential.

Sexual activity with someone whom the Respondent should know to be, or based on the circumstances should reasonably have known to be, mentally or physically incapacitated (by alcohol or other drugs, unconsciousness, sleep, blackout, or for any reason) is sexual activity without consent.  Incapacitation is a state where someone cannot make rational, reasonable decisions because they lack the capacity to give knowing consent (e.g., to understand the “who, what, when, where, why or how” of their sexual interaction). While incapacitation may result from the use of alcohol and/or drugs, incapacitation is a state beyond typical drunkenness or intoxication. Incapacitation may also exist because of a physical, mental or developmental disability.

The question of incapacitation will be examined objectively from the perspective of the Responding Party, i.e., whether a reasonable, sober person in the place of the Respondent should have known the condition of the complainant based on the apparent indications of incapacitation, which may include, but are not limited to, acting confused or incoherent, difficulty walking or speaking, and vomiting.

Asking for Consent is Sexy!

Talking about sex can be uncomfortable, and even scary for some. You may never have asked before, or feel like it’s awkward. Regardless, you should always ask for consent if you want to engage in any sexual acts with your partner. Consent means an active and verbal “yes”, when both parties agree to have sex, or engage in sexual activities. There is a clear understanding between the parties about what you are consenting to. Consent is freely given, without coercion, force, threats, intimidation, or pressure.

Few key points about consent:

  • It is always okay to say no, and consent can be withdrawn at anytime. When consent is withdrawn, all sexual activity must stop.
  • Consent should never be assumed or implied, even if you have a current or previous dating/sexual relationship.
  • Silence or not responding is not consent. The absence of a no does not mean yes.
  • Anyone can ask for consent, and anyone can say no.
  • A yes is not consent when someone is intimidated, pressured, or feels afraid of how their partner may react to a no response.
  • Sometimes we think that what we say and what we mean is clear to the other person, when it’s not. “Do you want to come back to my place?” or “Let’s hang out” with positive response does not mean that that person is consenting to sexual activity. They are consenting to going back to your place, and hanging out.
  • Sometimes, dating/sexual partners develop code words, or inside jokes, as a way to communicate that one desires sexual interaction. This is okay, as long as there is clear communication about what that term or joke means.
  • Keep in mind that alcohol increases misperceptions because it reduces the person’s ability to analyze what is in front of them, and may aid in mistaking actions for inviting sexual interactions, when in fact it was just a friendly correspondence.

So, now that you know a little more about consent, you may be wondering: where is the fun in that? You can ask for sex in a clear and respectful way, but still have fun and be sexy with it.

Ways to Ask for Consent:

  • “How far are you comfortable going tonight?”
  • “Are you okay with me doing this?”
  • “Do you want to make out?”
  • “Do you want to have sex?”
  • “I think it’s hot when we ______, do you want to do this?”
  • “It feels really good when you  __________, do you want to do this to me?”

Consent is about communication. Make sure to have clear, respectful, and fun communication with your partner about each others’ desires, boundaries, and needs.

Be a Courageous Bystander!

At Washington College, we encourage students to take an active role in promoting a safe, respectful, and healthy community. During your time at Washington College, you may witness or hear about situations that bother or concern you. These situations can include racist remarks, homophobic jokes, harassment, potential sexual assault, unhealthy relationship behaviors, or stalking. You can do something by being a courageous bystander.

bystander is a person who observes a situation that is bothersome or unacceptable and is in a position to discourage or prevent an incident. A courageous bystander is someone who plays an active role in naming and stopping situations before they happen, stepping in during an incident, and speaking out against ideas and behaviors that are bothersome or dangerous.

There are several reasons why you may be afraid to get involved, including fear of it not being what you thought it was, fear for your own safety, and concern that it will cause more harm than good.  If at any time you feel unsafe or are concerned for your physical wellbeing, call Public Safety at 410-778-7810 or 9-1-1.

3 Steps to Become a Courageous Bystander:

  1. Identify what you are witnessing may be concerning, bothersome, or even dangerous.
  2. Assess your capability to intervene. Are there others around you? Do you have a strategy in mind that you would use?  What is your comfort level in intervening?
  3. Intervene by using any of the strategies listed below, or create your own! Choose a strategy that is conducive to your own strengths and style.

Bystander Intervention Strategies

Be Direct - Talk one on one with the person. Use assertive statements to communicate with them how what happened made you feel.

  • Example:Last night a friend made a racist joke. Response: “Hey, you may not have meant any offense when you said that joke last night, but I don’t feel comfortable with that kind of humor, and people may have been offended.”
  • Example:Your friend just made inappropriate comments about how a girl from down the hall dressed last night.
    Response: “I feel concerned when you call ______ (name) a slut because she has a right to wear whatever she wants.”

Bring It Home

Connect the issue to someone or something they care about.

  • Example:  Someone at a party calls another party goer a homophobic slur.
    Response: “I hope no one ever talks to you like that”
  • Example:Your group of friends is talking about someone who reported they were sexually assaulted. One person states that she shouldn’t have been drinking so much and if she didn’t she wouldn’t have been sexually assaulted.
    Response: “How would you feel if someone said that about your girlfriend if she was sexually assaulted?”

Distract! – Sometimes, it may be more appropriate to bring attention away from what is going on. This is helpful when you don’t feel comfortable being direct, or if you think this approach would work best.

  • Example:You see someone pulling a clearly intoxicated female up the stairs towards a bedroom, and you’re pretty sure she would not be okay with that. Response:  (to the person leading the girl up the stairs) “Hey! Someone is towing your car! You may want to go check that out!” or go to the girl being pulled up the stairs and say “You’re friends are looking for you and want to take you home. Let’s go find them.” 

Distraction Tips for Bystander Intervention

Remove either person from the situation: “Hey, I think someone’s looking for you in the other room. It seems important.”

Strike up a conversation with either person. “Hey, aren’t you in my Calculus class? How do you think you did on that test?”

Get a friend to help you distract the individuals in the situation. It may be easier to intervene when you have someone else backing you up.

Divert the individuals’ attention by “accidentally” spilling your drink on the potential aggressor.

If one of the people in the situation is your friend, tell them that you’re tired and want to leave/go home.

If the individuals are already in a room alone together, it is not necessarily too late.  Open the door yourself or knock until someone comes to open it.

Be the awkward third wheel “hey, you going to watch Netflix upstairs? I’ll join you. House of Cards is my favorite!”

Call attention elsewhere “Oh My God! Is that Gus the Goose over there?”

Group Intervention - Chances are, you are not the only one who feels uncomfortable with what is going on. The bystander effect demonstrates that when there are a lot of people around, it is more unlikely people will step in. However, when one person joins, others tend to step in.

Example: At a social gathering, you see a couple arguing and almost getting physical with each other.
Response: Grab a friend or two and separate the couple. Note: if you feel unsafe, call 9-1-1.

Call 9-1-1 - If you don’t feel safe, contact Public Safety. You can also use the Live Safe App to report anonymously.

Use Humor - Use humor with care. If you are a naturally witty person, this might work well with your style. However, try not to be so humorous that you end up making light of your reaction or mocking the person.

You have the power to be a hero in someone else’s life by taking action when you see something that is harmful to our community. 
 You can be a courageous bystander anywhere, in any situation, and on any platform!

How to Help a Friend -
You can make a profound difference in your friend’s life if they disclose to you that they have been sexually assaulted. Studies show that a survivor of sexual assault is significantly affected throughout her/his recovery by the actions and attitudes of the people in her/his support system. Your willingness to listen, openness, and nonjudgmental support may be a key factor in her/his progress from victim to survivor.

  1. Tell them you believe them. One of the myths around sexual assault is that people make it up and are not telling the truth. In fact, only 1-2% of reported sexual assaults are falsely reported-which is the same for other crimes.  
  2. Allow them to share with you what details they feel comfortable with. Don’t ask prying questions about what happened.
  3. Be okay with silence. Sometimes, just having someone to sit with and be with is more than enough to show you care and support her/him.
  4. Respect her/his decisions about what she/he wants: who to tell, whether or not to report to police, what makes her/him feel safe, etc.
  5. Give them options, and the resources (check the resource page out for information), but allow them to choose which one, if any, they want to use.
  6. Do not tell others about what your friend has disclosed to you. However, it is important to take care of yourself. You are welcome to use Counseling Services to process your feelings about the incident. The exception to this is if you are a mandatory reporter (i.e., RA, staff, etc.), you must follow procedures for reporting to your supervisor or the Title IX Coordinator. 

Remember- you can make a huge difference in the person’s recover by just being supportive and being there. You don’t need to have all the answers, just need to provide support and empathy

Developing Safe Habits

Around Campus

  1. Learn the locations of the blue-light phones and access phones on campus (there is a map in the general safety booklet). Blue-light phones connect directly to the emergency line at Public Safety.
  2. Walk with others after dark. Avoid shortcuts and wooded areas; stay on lighted walkways.
  3. Call Public Safety for an escort if you will be walking alone at night.
  4. Let your friends know the route you are taking and when to expect you. Call ahead.
  5. Notice cars that pull up beside you or pass you more than once.
  6. Pay attention to footsteps and voices.
  7. If you are followed, stay in a lighted area and seek safety in a public building where there are other people. If you are on campus, find a phone.

At Home or in Residential Houses

  1. Have your keys in your hand well before you get to your destination. If you feel you are being watched, get help. Go to a neighbor’s door, an access phone, or the Public Safety office.
  2. Close and lock the door immediately when entering a residential building. Always keep room doors locked, especially when you are sleeping, and do not prop open outside doors.
  3. Be sensible with your keys and FOBS - don’t leave them in an outside hiding place. Report all lost or stolen College keys and FOBS as soon as possible.
  4. Be careful about letting acquaintances sleep in your room or home.
  5. Vouch for visitors to a residential building only if you know them. Report unauthorized persons or suspicious behavior to the residence life staff, or the Department of Public Safety immediately.
  6. Know who is at the door before opening it. Ask for identification from anyone you don’t know or feel uncomfortable about. If a stranger requests to use your telephone to call for help, offer to place the call for him or her rather than to invite the stranger into your home or room. If you live alone off campus, or with other women, use only your first initials on your mailbox and in telephone directories.
  7. Use caution over the phone. Never reveal your phone number or name to a wrong number caller. Don’t reveal to a caller that you are alone. Be wary of telephone surveys, especially ones that ask for personal information. If you don’t know who the person is, hang up. Warn roommates not to give out personal information over the phone.
  8. Be alert in laundromats and laundry rooms. Try not to go alone.
  9. Report burned-out lights and broken locks, doors, and windows to Building and Grounds immediately.
  10. Know which neighbors you could call in an emergency.
  11. Take public safety and security regulations seriously.

In Transit

  1. Have your keys ready in your hand as you approach the car.
  2. Have your doors locked at all times, and your windows up whenever possible.
  3. Check your back seat before you get into your car.
  4. Park in a well-lit area.
  5. Don’t go to your car alone at night if you can avoid it.
  6. Always make sure you have enough gas, and your car is in good repair, before you leave.
  7. Never pick up hitchhikers.
  8. Consider carrying a cellular phone.
  9. If you suspect you are being followed, drive into a busy, well-lit establishment and call a law enforcement agency. If you know the location of the local police department, drive there and ask for help.
  10. Signal for help by raising the hood of your car if you have car trouble. Remain in your car with the doors locked until help arrives. Make sure the assistance is legitimate. If another motorist offers help, stay in your car and ask the motorist to call the police or auto club.
  11. Don’t stop if you see a disabled vehicle on the highway, but report it and send help for the driver.

*Adopted in part from “Acquaintance Rape”, a publication of the American College Health Association.

What To Do

If a friend who has been sexually assaulted asks for your help, you can support her/him by providing what comfort you can and encouraging her/him to receive the necessary medical aid. You can also ensure that if she/he chooses, they take the appropriate steps for reporting the incident to public safety or the police. It is helpful for you to accompany your friend to the police, staying with her/him where appropriate until all necessary procedures have been completed.

Here are some suggestions of ways you can help a friend who has been raped:

  1. Be supportive. Let her/him know that you care about her/him, that you believe her/him, and that she/he is not alone.
  2. Encourage her/him to express her/his feelings about what has happened to her/him.
  3. Be interested and empathic without prying or pressing for details.
  4. Do not to criticize or judge.
  5. Respect her/his decisions about what she/he wants: who to tell, whether or not to report to the police, what makes her/him feel safe, etc.
  6. If you are a man helping a woman, be aware that her reaction to you may be complicated; she may want affection, or she may have generalized fears of all men.
  7. Try not to express your own feelings of anger or helplessness to her/him, or to project them onto her/him. Talk about these feelings with another friend or professional counselor.

For Residence Hall Staff: When a Student Is Sexually Assaulted…

As an RA, you are a mandated reporter and you are required to report information to your supervisor or the Title IX Coordinator.  If a student comes to you voluntarily, you know that she/he trusts you; it is important to remain a supportive reassurance as she/he makes decisions about what to do. Studies show that a survivor of sexual assault is significantly affected throughout her/his recovery by the actions of and attitudes of the people in her /his support system. Your openness, willingness to listen, and nonjudgmental support may be a key factor in her/his progress from victim to survivor.

Take special care to help the student obtain the assistance of college resources. Follow up with her/him to see how she/he is doing.

You must also be aware that if a student’s life is in danger or if a student poses serious risk of harm to others, you may not maintain confidentiality. As an employee of the College, you have an obligation to report your concern that someone’s life may be threatened to appropriate College officials.

Guidelines for Helping a Friend or Acquaintance who has been a Victim of a Rape

Less than 2% of people lie about rape or sexual assaults.

No one asks to be raped. No matter what your friend was wearing, how they were acting, how much they had to drink, they are not responsible for being sexually assaulted.

Encourage your friend to seek medical attention at Washington College Health Services or a hospital. A medical examination can detect and prevent injuries, STIs, and pregnancy, and may be able to detect memory-altering drugs.

No matter where the survivor lives, there are always services listed in the phone book. The Yellow Pages list local rape crisis centers under “Rape” or “Social/Human Services”.

Allow your friend to tell you as little or as much as she/he wants at her/his own pace.

Although you may not mean to, some questions may put your friend on the defensive. For example:

  • “Why didn’t you just leave?”
  • “Did you scream?”
  • “Why did you go to the room alone?”

Instead try asking:

  • “What happened?”
  • “How are you feeling?”
  • “What do you feel you want to do now?”

Although your natural response may be to give your friend a hug, be aware that after a sexual assault many survivors do not feel comfortable with physical contact.

Speaking to one of the resources listed on this website may be helpful to your friend. Volunteer to accompany her/him. Having someone she/he trusts may make it easier to talk about the attack. A discussion with one of these people could explore counseling, medical, disciplinary, and legal issues, as well as academic concerns and housing alternatives.

The most important part of a survivor’s recovery is regaining the control that the rapist took away. Help your friend find what options she/he has, and be supportive of whatever decisions she/he makes.

Hearing about a sexual assault is an upsetting experience. You may want to talk to a trusted friend or counselor about your own feelings.