Consent is an affirmative and voluntary agreement by a person to engage in a specific sexual act.
Consent Must Be Obtained
Consent must be obtained, and the responsibility for obtaining Consent rests with the individual who voluntarily and physically initiates a specific sexual act, even if the other person initiated the sexual encounter. One’s own use of alcohol, drugs, or other substances does not diminish one’s responsibility to obtain Consent from the other person. Moreover, the other person’s use of alcohol, drugs, or other substances does not diminish one’s responsibility to obtain Consent from that person.
Consent Must Be Affirmative
Consent must be affirmative, which means that Consent is communicated only through words and/or non-verbal actions that convey a clear agreement to engage in a specific sexual act. Whether person has communicated an agreement to engage in a specific sexual act generally is evaluated from the perspective of what a reasonable person who perceived the individual’s words and/or non-verbal actions would have understood; however, in the context of a long-term relationship between persons that has involved sexual activity and a pattern of communicating consent, whether consent has been communicated may be evaluated based on a subjective standard (i.e., what did the specific person who initiated the specific sexual act conclude?). A verbal “no” (or words equivalent to “no”) or the nonverbal communication of “no,” even if it sounds or appears insincere or indecisive, always means that consent has not been communicated, or if previously communicated has been withdrawn. The absence of a verbal “no” or the absence of a nonverbal communication of “no” does not necessarily mean that consent has been communicated. Because interpreting non-verbal actions may lead to misunderstanding and a violation of this policy, students are strongly encouraged to err on the side of caution and not rely solely on the non-verbal actions of another person in concluding that the other person has communicated consent. The University urges students to communicate with one another before engaging in a sexual act to ensure that they both wish to engage in the same sexual act.
Consent cannot be obtained by or inferred from:
Consent Must be Voluntary
Consent is not voluntary if it is obtained by Coercion. Nor is Consent voluntary if it is obtained from a person who is Incapacitated if one knows (or a Reasonable Person would know) that the other person is Incapacitated. Because the Incapacitation of another person may be difficult for one to discern, persons subject to this policy are strongly encouraged to err on the side of caution (i.e., when in doubt, assume that the other person is Incapacitated and therefore unable to give Consent.)
Consent Must be Continual
Consent must be continual, which means that consent must exist from the beginning to the end of each sexual encounter and for each specific sexual act that occurs during a sexual encounter. A person has a right to change his/her mind; thus, Consent to engage in a specific sexual act may be withdrawn by a person at any time. A withdrawal of Consent is communicated through clear words and/or clear non-verbal actions that indicate that a person no longer agrees to engage in a specific sexual act. Once a person’s withdrawal of Consent has been communicated, the other person must cease the specific sexual act and must obtain Consent before reinitiating the specific sexual act or any other sexual act. Consent is automatically withdrawn when a person becomes Incapacitated. Consent to one type of Sexual Contact or Sexual Intercourse (e.g., oral intercourse) does not constitute or imply Consent for another type of Sexual Contact or Sexual Intercourse (e.g., vaginal intercourse), whether during a sexual encounter or during a previous sexual encounter. The University urges persons subject to this policy to communicate with one another throughout a sexual encounter to ensure that any progression of sexual activity is done with Consent.
Click below for detailed definitions.
Words and/or conduct that, viewed from the perspective of a Reasonable Person, substantially impair(s) a person’s ability to voluntarily choose whether to engage in a particular sexual act (e.g., Sexual Contact or Sexual Intercourse). Coercion is something more than mere seduction or persuasion.
Coercion includes, without limitation:
- Physical force; and
- Words and/or conduct that would cause a Reasonable Person to fear imminent: harm to the person’s health, safety, or property or that of a third person; threat of the loss or impairment of a job benefit; threat of the loss or impairment of an academic benefit; kidnapping of the person or a third person; or disclosure of sensitive personal information (e.g., disclosure of a person’s sexual orientation, gender identity, or gender expression).
Incapacitated (or Incapacitation)
A temporary or permanent physical or mental state in which a person cannot make informed, rational judgments (e.g., judgments concerning Sexual Contact, Sexual Intercourse, or Sexual Exploitation) because: the person lacks the physical or mental capacity to understand the nature or consequences of their words and/or conduct; and/or the person is unable to physically or verbally communicate Consent. Incapacitation can be voluntary or involuntary. Incapacitation is determined based on the totality of the circumstances.
Incapacitation may result from: sleep; unconsciousness; intermittent consciousness; temporary or permanent physical or mental disability; involuntary physical restraint; or the influence of alcohol, drugs, or other substances, including, without limitation, substances used to facilitate Sexual Assault (e.g., Rohypnol, Ketamine, GHB, and Burundanga).
Alcohol and drugs are common causes of Incapacitation. When alcohol or drugs are involved, Incapacitation is a state beyond mere drunkenness or intoxication. The impact of alcohol and drugs varies from person to person; however, warning signs of Incapacitation may include, without limitation: lack of control over physical movements (e.g., inability to dress/undress without assistance; inability to walk without assistance); lack of awareness of circumstances or surroundings; vomiting; unresponsiveness; and inability to communicate coherently.
A person who is under the age of eighteen (18) (i.e., a minor) is incapable of giving Consent; however, a person who is at least the age of thirteen (13) and less than the age of eighteen (18) is capable of giving Consent to sexual acts with another person who is less than four (4) years older than them.
Having a belief in the truth of information that a Reasonable Person in the same situation could have, based on the information known to the person communicating the information at the time the information was communicated by that person. A report or other information communicated during an investigation, hearing, or other proceeding under this policy is not made in good faith if made with knowing or reckless disregard for information that would negate the report or information.
A sober, objectively reasonable person in the same situation, and with the same sex, gender identity, and sexual orientation as the person whose words and/or conduct are being evaluated.
Consent under Tennessee Criminal Law
The definition of Consent for the purposes of criminal law in the State of Tennessee:
In Tennessee, with respect to most criminal offenses relating to sexual activity, sexual activity is criminal if: (1) the activity was accomplished without the consent of the victim and the defendant knows or has reason to know at the time of the activity that the victim did not consent; (2) force or coercion is used to accomplish the activity; (3) the defendant knows or has reason to know that the victim is mentally defective, mentally incapacitated, or physically helpless; or (4) the sexual activity is accomplished by fraud.
“Consent” is not explicitly defined in Tennessee statutory law, for purposes of criminal offenses relating to sexual activity.
“Coercion” means a threat of kidnapping, extortion, force, or violence to be performed immediately or in the future. (Tennessee Code Annotated § 39-13-501(1))
“Mentally defective” means that a person suffers from a mental disease or defect which renders that person temporarily or permanently incapable of appraising the nature of the person's conduct. (Tennessee Code Annotated § 39-13-501(3))
“Mentally incapacitated” means that a person is rendered temporarily incapable of appraising or controlling the person's conduct due to the influence of a narcotic, anesthetic or other substance administered to that person without the person's consent, or due to any other act committed upon that person without the person's consent. (Tennessee Code Annotated § 39-13-501(4))
“Physically helpless” means that a person is unconscious, asleep or for any other reason physically or verbally unable to communicate unwillingness to do an act. (Tennessee Code Annotated § 39-13-501(5))
With respect to criminal offenses relating to sexual activity with a person under the age of eighteen (18) years of age, consent is irrelevant because Tennessee law deems a minor as incapable of consenting to sexual activity. However, Tennessee law provides a close-in-age exception to that general rule that allows minors who are at least the age of thirteen (13) and less than the age of eighteen (18) to give Consent to sexual acts with another person who is less than four (4) years older than the minor.