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Digital Consent, Boundaries, and Everyday Consent Online

Digital Consent, Boundaries, and Everyday Consent Online

Creating a pathway for respectful online spaces with consent

From apps to online dating websites, there are many ways people are connecting online. Although you aren’t talking face-to-face with someone, consent still needs to be communicated along the way. You should always consider how your actions might make another person feel and ask questions if you don’t know.

Unlike in-person interactions, there may not be body language cues, like eye contact, that can indicate how someone is really feeling. So when we communicate online, it’s important to develop new ways to recognize others’ boundaries and give them the space to recognize our boundaries as well. If we shift from making assumptions to clearly communicating our boundaries and asking questions when we’re not sure, we can create a pathway to more respectful online spaces.

We show respect for ourselves and for others in everyday ways when we practice consent. Consent sets a baseline for using our actions and words to demonstrate the value of others through respecting their limits. Consent gives us a framework for how to communicate boundaries and understand how our choices impact others.

What is consent?

ConsentConsent occurs when someone gives permission for something to happen or agrees to do something.

When you ask someone for consent, they need to know specifically what they’re agreeing to, so make sure what you’re asking is clear. Consent also needs to be voluntary, so those who are agreeing should be doing so freely and 100% by their own choosing, without pressure, guilt, or coercion from the person asking.

Consent in online contexts and situations

When it comes to sexual activities that take place through screens, such as sexting, sending nude photos, or connecting for in-person physical sex, digital consent is a baseline for moving forward.

Digital ConsentDigital consent is a way to refer to sexual consent that happens through screens.

Just like in real-life sexual encounters, consent should be an on-going conversation when communicating digitally. Although you aren’t talking face-to-face, you should always consider how your actions might make another person feel and ask questions if you don’t know.

We can practice digital consent by:

  • Asking permission before sending explicit messages or texts
  • Respecting the decisions of others once you ask. It’s never okay to coerce or pressure someone to send photos or record sexual acts. If someone says no after you ask for digital consent, respect their choice and move on.
  • Understanding that everyone has boundaries around meeting up in real life. If you’ve met online or on an app, make sure you both agree on the next steps and feel safe and comfortable with meeting up in person. Regardless of what others expect, everyone has the right to decide what is best for them and to act on those values.
  • Asking each time. Getting digital consent is important every time — even if your partner agreed to something before, they are not obligated to agree to do it again.

Consent isn’t only important when it comes to sex — there are everyday ways that we negotiate our needs with the needs of others.

Everyday ConsentEveryday consent means we communicate our boundaries and ask others for their perspective before taking actions that impact them.

We can practice and model everyday consent online by:

  • Respecting the devices and accounts of others. It’s never okay to try to unlock someone else’s phone without permission or look through their inbox or texts. Similarly, when sharing a device with someone, log out of accounts that you do not have permission to use and do not look at private account information.
  • Asking permission before posting a photo of someone else on social media and before reposting or resharing something personal.
  • Checking if it’s okay before sharing information outside of your one-on-one chat.
  • Agreeing on a platform and giving options when communicating — for instance, giving the option to leave your webcam off during a video call.
  • Making your availability for activities like video calls clear and conducting them within the agreed-upon time frame. Let a friend or colleague know you would like to video call specifically rather than assuming.

Additional Resources

This content was originally developed as a part of NSVRC’s Sexual Assault Awareness Month 2021 campaign resources. The campaign theme “We Can Build Safe Online Spaces” focused on preventing online sexual harassment and abuse. Learn more: https://www.nsvrc.org/saam/2021/about/wecanbuildcampaign 
 

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