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Gray Areas of Sexual Misconduct

Disclaimer: This article discusses sexual assault.


Discussions about consent are undeniably important and relevant yet they do not take place nearly often enough. There are the obvious rules to understand such as no means no and do not do anything unless you are entirely certain the other person is not only okay with it but enthusiastic and happy to share the experience with you. Outside of these, however, there can be certain gray areas of situations you might be hesitant to call misconduct but one or both people involved feel upset or even just uncomfortable about what happened. These can be difficult to assess and different people may have different opinions about what constitutes misconduct. Despite this, the fact of the matter is that if someone feels uncomfortable or tells you they are not okay with something you did, you have to listen to them and take responsibility for the situation, regardless of how you perceived it. Everyone deserves to feel respected and listened to, especially regarding such an important topic.

A time I experienced a gray area was on a Friday night with someone I trusted completely.  My boyfriend and I had been drinking in my dorm and at some point I passed out. I woke up a few hours later with very little memory of the night and immediately panicked when I found out that more had happened than I was comfortable with after I had passed out. He held me and we both cried and he repeatedly told me that it had been a confusing situation and we must have just had a communication problem because he knew he was not capable of doing anything to hurt me. I believed him when he said he had no intention of hurting me and I was able to forgive him but what he said at the time felt invalidating. I was hurt and I didn’t feel like I was allowed to be, which led to me bottling up my emotions about the situation instead of dealing with them in a healthy way.



I am not even close to being the only person who has been in an experience similar to this. Almost every one of my friends has a cautionary tale involving alcohol or miscommunication. Often, the other person does not have bad intentions but that does not prevent one or both people from getting hurt. Sometimes there are situations in which both people that something bad happened to them, usually as a result of alcohol. In these cases, from an outside perspective, it is important to listen to both people and not jump to conclusions about who is at fault, especially not on a basis of gender.



Overall, the most important thing to remember is that communication and explicit consent is one hundred percent necessary each time and if you have even a slight inclination someone is unable to consent, stop. If something does end up happening that results in someone feeling uncomfortable, hurt, or abused, listen to them. Focus on making sure they are okay and if they need help that they have access to it. Do not trivialize what they have told you or attempt to escape blame by convincing them they do not have a right to feel the way that they feel.


Image Credit: Feature, 1, 2



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