Consent, Retaliation and Other Key Concepts


Mount Holyoke College believes that all sexual activity should be consensual. Consent to engage in any sexual activity must be knowing and voluntary; it must exist for each form of sexual contact.  Consent given for a past sexual activity does not give consent for a new activity.  The existence of a current or prior dating or intimate relationship does not imply consent.  Consent can be given and withdrawn at any time.

One demonstrates consent through mutually understandable words and/or actions that clearly indicate a willingness to engage freely in sexual activity.  Consent is active, not passive. Silence or the absence of resistance does not imply consent.  

An individual who was asleep, mentally or physically incapacitated, either through the effects of drugs, alcohol or for any reason, or who was under duress, threat, coercion, or force, would not be able to consent to sexual activity. 

Guidance on Consent

  • It is the responsibility of the initiator to obtain consent. Students are encouraged to communicate openly about what they do and do not want. Students may be held responsible for a violation of the sexual violence policy by NOT OBTAINING consent. A student will not be held responsible if they do not GIVE consent.
  • If the sexual interaction is mutually initiated, both parties are equally responsible for getting and giving consent.
  • All parties must demonstrate a clear and mutual understanding of the nature and scope of the act to which they are consenting. 
  • Consent must be a free choice. Consent cannot be obtained by force, coercion, threats, intimidation or pressuring, or by taking advantage of the incapacitation of another individual.
  • Consent is not unlimited. Consent is required for each separate sexual activity (i.e. kissing, touching, penetration). Consent to one form of sexual contact does not constitute consent to all forms of sexual contact, nor does consent to sexual activity with one person constitute consent to activity with any other person. Each participant in a sexual encounter must consent to each form of contact with each participant. 
  • Everyone has the right to change his or her mind and withdraw consent at any time. Individuals choosing to engage in sexual activity must evaluate consent in an ongoing manner and communicate clearly throughout all stages of sexual activity.  Withdrawal of consent can be an expressed “no” or can be based on an outward demonstration that conveys that an individual is hesitant, confused, and uncertain or is no longer a mutual participant. Once consent is withdrawn, the sexual activity must cease immediately and all parties must obtain mutually expressed or clearly stated consent before continuing further sexual activity.
  • The ability to give consent freely may also be jeopardized if the initiator is in a position of power over the student, such as a professor, employer, or functioning in a supervisory capacity.
  • Silence is not consent. Consent cannot be inferred from silence, passivity, lack of resistance or lack of response. An individual who does not physically resist or verbally refuse sexual activity is not necessarily giving consent. Relying solely upon non-verbal communication can lead to a false conclusion as to whether consent was sought or given.


Retaliation is an act or attempted act to seek retribution from an individual or group of individuals involved in the reporting, investigation and/or resolution of a complaint of sexual violence or allegation of gender-based discrimination. Retaliation can take many forms, including continued abuse or violence, threats, and intimidation.  Mount Holyoke College prohibits retaliation against a reporting party, survivor, witness, accused or ant individual who participates or cooperates in the investigation or grievance proceeding. The sanction for an outcome of retaliation may include employment termination or expulsion from the College. 


Incapacitation is the lack of ability to make informed, rational judgement to engage in sexual activity.  A person who is incapacitated cannot offer consent to sexual activity. Incapacitation may result from the use of alcohol and/or drugs, when a person is asleep or unconscious or unable to provide consent due to age or disability. Where alcohol or other drugs are involved, incapacitation is a state beyond drunkenness or intoxication. Evaluating incapacitation requires an assessment of how substances consumed impact a person’s decision-making ability, awareness of consequences, ability to make informed judgements or capacity to understand the nature of the act. 


Force is the use or threat of physical violence or intimidation to overcome an individual’s freedom of will to choose whether or not to participate in sexual activity. For the use of force to be demonstrated, there is no requirement that a Complainant resists the sexual advance or request. However, resistance by the Complainant will be viewed as a clear demonstration of non-consent.


Coercion is the improper use of pressure to compel another individual to initiate or continue sexual activity against his/her will. Coercion can include a wide range of behaviors, including intimidation, manipulation, threats and blackmail. A person’s words or conduct are sufficient to constitute coercion if they wrongfully impair another individual’s freedom of will and ability to choose whether or not to engage in sexual activity. Examples of coercion include threatening to “out” someone based on sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression and threatening to harm oneself if the other party does not engage in the sexual activity.