In light of recent court cases involving sexual assault, public perceptions of injustice, and high school protests on the issue across B.C., the Elizabeth Fry Society sheds light on the culture of consent.
“Do not touch people if they do not seem like they can give consent,” said Samantha, team lead for victim services at Elizabeth Fry. (Her surname is not being published due to security concerns.)
In a recent Kelowna court case, four men were acquitted after being charged with sexual assault following a night of alcohol consumption and sex. The judge’s decision prompted oft-heard public criticism.
It’s a complex and controversial subject.
“When alcohol becomes involved, it is a grey area,” she said, referencing the Canadian judicial system.
Asked in general terms about the legality surrounding a person’s ability to give consent while under the influence of alcohol, criminal defence lawyer Timothy Foster told the Capital News that it’s not clear-cut under the law and is dependent on the situation.
“Legally, you can’t give informed consent if you’re incapacitated,” said Foster. “You can’t give consent if you’re passed out and unconscious.”
However, “Sometimes people are blacked out, but they’re still walking, talking, and saying and doing things, and it’s just their memory that doesn’t work anymore.”
In that condition of being “blacked out” drunk, Foster said, “Legally, yes, you can give informed consent, even if you don’t remember.”
However, the Elizabeth Fry Society’s stance is that,“if you are intoxicated, you cannot consent,” said Samantha.
“You are not in the right place of mind to consent to sexual activity.”
If the person is intoxicated, just assume they cannot give consent, even if they say yes, she said, stressing that if there is any uncertainty involving the ability of your sexual partner to agree to sexual activities, “just don’t do it.”
Samantha also added the need for explicit, verbal confirmation that your partner is a willing participant.
If you don’t know the person well and haven’t had a conversation about consensual sex, prior to drinking, “just don’t do it” she said.
She wants survivors of sexual assault to know that they are not alone, emphasizing that the Elizabeth Fry organization believes survivors and will listen to them. Their purpose is to help victims of assault move forward and find healing.
“We will help you figure out the next steps,” she said.
She said seeking legal justice can be one step in the healing process for people, but unfortunately it doesn’t always happen.
“I explain to my clients that you are up against a difficult system. The system has failed victims again and again … it’s a shame that the system is set up in the way that it is.”
Samantha wants to encourage people to come forward and speak about their experience with sexual assault.
“The more people that come forward, the more the system will learn and change.”