I hope that everyone is surviving the last few weeks of winter. I know we had some beautiful weather a couple of days ago, but it seems as if the snow is not quite ready to give up. I know that my winter checklist is complete, as I fell square on my backside the other day. I seem to do that once a winter, so I was due. Please be careful and take your time on the snow and ice. Luckily, the only thing I bruised was my pride, but some are not so lucky.
This month, I decided that I wanted to touch on the idea of consent. Consent, obviously, means getting permission from another party to do whatever it is you are planning on doing. This goes further than talking about sexual relationships. The only difference between rough-housing and assault is whether or not both parties consented. Another example is the only difference between flirting online with someone and harassment is consent.
The concept of consent is one we discussed in depth in my Junior Police Academy class. In my line of work, there are times that we ask consent before performing some official action. In order for said action to be valid in court, the consent has to be freely and expressly given. In other words, someone giving consent after being coerced, threatened, or even badgered, is not true consent. I think that this is a useful measuring stick for consent in general.
The other side of consent is refusal. When it comes to harassment cases, there were many times I have heard a suspect say, “I was just kidding” or “I did not mean it.” The problem is that the victim’s perception is key, not the suspect’s. One of the definitions of harassment is “words or conduct that are likely to evoke an immediate violent response.” This is a very subjective definition, and the opinion that matters is the receiver. So, while you may have been joking, or just wrestling around, or trying to show your love, if the other person refuses, then you need to stop immediately.
There are two takeaways I want to make clear. First, if someone says “stop,” or “no,” or any sort of negative response, stop immediately. It is okay to stop and clarify. Play it safe and make sure that everyone is on the same sheet of music. And secondly, if you are not okay with what is going on, speak up and clearly state you do not want to participate. As awkward as that conversation may be, I always tell people it is better to be open about how you feel. If the other person truly cares, they would want to know their behavior or words are harmful. And if they don’t care, then they deserve to meet whatever disciplinary actions ensue. Finally, if you suspect someone else is being victimized, please let me know. I can and will check on them for you, and your anonymity will be kept, to the best of my ability.
If anyone would like to discuss this further, I am always available. You can always stop by my office at the middle school, or pull me aside as I make my rounds. I hope everyone has a happy (and safe) March, and look forward to seeing everyone outside enjoying their town come spring.
Morgan Woodard is an officer with the Seward Police Department and school resource officer at Seward Middle School. He can be reached at (907) 422-7630. This article originally ran in the Seward Middle School newsletter.