Love shouldn’t hurt – ever

Digital consent and image-based sexual abuse
Now, more than ever, people of all ages rely on technology, devices, and screens to stay connected and communicate. The digital age has taken on an entirely new meaning when it comes to consent, dating, and sexual abuse. From apps to online dating websites, there are many ways people are connecting online. Consent still needs to be communicated even though you aren’t talking face-to-face and you should always consider how your actions might make someone feel and ask questions if you don’t know. When we talk to someone in person there are body language cues that indicate how someone is feeling, but those same cues (like eye contact) are not present online so we need to develop new ways to recognize other’s boundaries and give them space to recognize ours as well.

When we give consent, we are voluntarily giving permission for something to happen or agreeing to do something. Consent is given under no pressure, guilt, or coercion. Digital consent is a way to refer to sexual consent that happens through screens. Just like in real-life, consent should be an on-going conversation. We can practice digital consent by: Asking permission before sending explicit messages or texts and respecting the decisions of others once you ask. It’s never okay to coerce or pressure someone to send photos or record sexual acts. Everyone has the right to set boundaries around meeting up in person. If you’ve met someone online or on an app, you should both agree on the next steps to feel safe and comfortable meeting in person. It is important to get digital consent every time – even if your partner agreed to something before, they are not obligated to agree to do it again.

We should always respect the devices and accounts of others. For example, it’s not okay to unlock or look through someone else’s phone without permission. Similarly, when sharing a device with someone, log out of accounts that you do not have permission to use and do not look at private account information. Also, always ask permission before posting a photo of someone else on social media and before reposting or resharing something personal.

Image-based sexual abuse involves using explicit photos or videos of someone to sexually exploit them. This includes creating or stealing explicit materials and threatening to distribute or actually distributing those materials without the consent of the person depicted. Anyone can become a victim of image-based sexual abuse. People are becoming more aware of this issue and organizations like the National Center on Sexual Exploitation is working on solutions including survivor services, stronger state and federal legislation, civil litigation, online platform responsibility to remove non-consensual sexually explicit imagery, survivor centered removal forms and more.

In order to create more respectful online spaces, we should never make assumptions. We should, however, always communicate boundaries clearly and ask questions if we aren’t sure. We show respect for ourselves and for others every day when we practice consent. If you or someone you know has experienced intimate partner violence or image based sexual abuse, Crisis Services of North Alabama can help. Please contact us locally at 256.574.5826, on our 24/7 HELPline at 256.716.1000, or at our website Advocates provide free, confidential support to survivors of domestic violence and sexual assault.

-Rebecca Hieronymi

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