India’s deeply patriarchal culture has a long history of discounting women’s consent and sexual autonomy. Traditionally, Indian women were expected to be demure, passive, and yet always ready to please their husbands sexually. So, it’s no shocker that marital rape is still not decriminalised in our country. According to a 2018 report by the National Crime Record Bureau (NCRB), a whopping 94% of sexual offenders were known to the victim. In fact, it wouldn’t be a stretch to say that almost every woman in India has experienced unwanted sexual advances at some point in her life. And yet, the concept of consent just doesn’t get talked about enough.
So what does consent really look like?
Sexual consent is when one person voluntarily agrees to take part in sexual activity with another. This means that both partners should be interested in actively participating and permission should be freely expressed and not just assumed.
Here are some essentials of sexual consent:
Explicit: Silence or a lack of withdrawal from one partner should not be interpreted as implied consent. Similarly, flirting, dressing boldly does not mean a woman is “asking for it”.
- Not forced: Consent needs to be willingly expressed and not due to coercion, threat, or emotional blackmail.
- Continuous: A willingness to one sexual act does not necessarily imply consent to another. Consent can be taken back or withdrawn at any time and is free to change.
- Conscious choice: The person giving consent needs to be aware of what they are agreeing to and not just saying it while intoxicated.
Asking for consent
While reading signals in the early stages of a crush or relationship can be confusing, asking for consent is really straightforward. Whether it’s for a peck on the lips or going all the way, there always needs to be clear mutual consent. If you want to initiate a move or try something new, all you have to do is directly ask them how they feel about it.
In the past, many misconceptions have come in the way of consent. For instance, asking for permission does not “kill the mood” unlike what you may have heard. In fact, there’s nothing hotter than a considerate partner who respects your needs and limits! In 2020, we’ve come a long way from the outdated ‘coy Indian woman’ trope. So, there’s really no reason you should shy away from expressing your sexual needs and saying no to something you’re uncomfortable doing.
Unfortunately, it’s rarely as simple as ‘yes means yes’ and ‘no means no’. Sometimes peer pressure or the pressure of pleasing one’s partner can cause people to give in to sexual acts that they aren’t ready for. A manipulative partner may try to escalate foreplay and guilt you into something in the ‘heat of the moment’. They make even make you feel like you owe it to them. Remember that it is perfectly acceptable to change your mind at any time during a sexual act. You should not be guilt-tripped or feel obliged to go ahead with it. Also, do stand your ground if your partner isn’t respecting your request to wear a condom. Communicating your boundaries is essential for having healthy intimate relationships.
In the absence of consent…
Irrespective of gender, we all have the right to deny any unwanted physical contact including touching, kissing or hugging. When there’s no consent, such forced physical contact amounts to assault, which is a punishable offence under the Indian Penal Code. There is also such a thing as a legal ‘age of consent’. In India, this is 18 years under the Criminal Law (Amendment) Act, 2013. So, while mutual consent is important, it is actually inconsequential in the case of minors! Essentially, this means that sex between consenting minors is considered rape.
What to do if you have been violated
Your first step is to acknowledge what happened and address it with the other person involved (if you feel safe doing so). Next, you must confide in a trusted friend or family member, who can hear you out without judgment. Don’t hesitate to reach out to helplines (see 'Useful Links & Resources' below) provided by the National Commission for Women along with organisations (see 'Useful Links & Resources' below) that provide legal aid and redressal.
Since sexual harassment is layered and often subjective, reporting the incident will involve details of context and proof. If you were subject to inappropriate sexual behaviour at your workplace, different laws apply. In most cases, there will be an Internal Complaints Committee in your office to address such issues. You may alternatively want to directly report it to the police.
Dealing with the resulting trauma from sexual assault or rape can be both confusing and painful. While some victims move on with time, others may never completely get over the incident and remain traumatized. They may develop trust issues, fear of intimacy, and even guilt, which carries forward to their future relationships. It’s essential to speak to a mental health professional who will be able to better guide you through this headspace. To book a judgment-free consult with one of our expert psychologists, click below.
Useful LInks & Resources:
Reviewed by: Dr. Shailly Prasad, MD/MBA, Resident Physician, Obstetrics & Gynecology.
Disclaimer: Content on Veera is provided for informational purposes only and is not intended as medical advice or as a substitute for medical advice given by a physician or trained professional.
 Roffee, James A. (2015). "When Yes Actually Means Yes". Roffee James A., 'When Yes Actually Means Yes: Confusing Messages and Criminalising Consent' in Rape Justice: Beyond the Criminal Law eds. Powell A., Henry N., and Flynn A., Palgrave, 2015.