Consent, Incapacitation, & Coercion


Consent is knowing, voluntary, and clear permission by word or action to engage in sexual activity. Since individuals may experience the same interaction in different ways, it is the responsibility of each party to determine that the other has consented before engaging in the activity.

If consent is not clearly provided prior to engaging in the activity, consent may be ratified by word or action at some point during the interaction or thereafter, but clear communication from the outset is strongly encouraged.

For consent to be valid, there must be a clear expression in words or actions that the other individual consented to the specific sexual conduct. Reasonable reciprocation can be implied. For example, if someone kisses you, you can kiss them back (if you want to) without the need to explicitly obtain their consent to being kissed back. Consent can also be withdrawn once given, as long as the withdrawal is reasonably and clearly communicated. If consent is withdrawn, that sexual activity should cease within a reasonable time.

Consent to some sexual contact (such as kissing or fondling) cannot be presumed to be consent for other sexual activity (such as intercourse). A current or previous intimate relationship is not sufficient to constitute consent.

Proof of consent or non-consent is not a burden placed on either party involved in an incident. Instead, the burden remains on Case Western Reserve University to determine whether its policy has been violated. The existence of consent is based on the totality of the circumstances evaluated from the perspective of a reasonable person in the same or similar circumstances, including the context in which the alleged incident occurred and any similar previous patterns that may be evidenced.

Consent CANNOT be given if a person’s ability to resist or consent is incapacitated because of a mental illness  or physical condition or if there is a significant age or perceived power differential. 


Incapacitation is a state in which someone cannot make rational, reasonable decisions because the person lacks the capacity to give knowing consent (e.g., to understand the “who, what, when, where, why or how” of their sexual interaction).  Incapacitation is determined through consideration of all relevant indicators of an individual’s state and is not synonymous with intoxication, impairment, blackout, and/or being drunk. This policy also covers a person who incapacity results from a temporary or permanent physical or mental health condition, involuntary physical restraint, and/or the consumption of incapacitating drugs.

It is a defense to a sexual assault policy violation that the Respondent neither knew nor should have known the Complainant to be physically or mentally incapacitated. “Should have known” is an objective, reasonable person standard which assumes that a reasonable person is both sober and exercising sound judgment.

It is not an excuse that the responding party was intoxicated and, therefore, did not realize the incapacity of the reporting party. The question of whether the responding party should have known the incapacity is an objective question about what a reasonable person, exercising sober, good judgment, would have known, in the same or similar circumstances.


Coercion is unreasonable pressure for sexual activity. Coercive conduct differs from seductive conduct based on factors such as the type and/or extent of the pressure used to obtain consent. When someone makes clear to you that they do not want sex, that they want to stop, or that they do not want to go past a certain point of sexual interaction, continued pressure beyond that point can be coercive.

Relationships Involving Authority or Power

When one party has any professional responsibility for another’s academic, job performance, or professional future, the university considers sexual relationships between the two individuals to be a basic violation of professional ethics and responsibility.  This includes but is not limited to sexual relationships between faculty (including teaching assistants and laboratory supervisors) and their students or between supervisors and their employees, even if deemed mutually consenting relationships.  Because of the asymmetry of these relationships, “consent” may be difficult to assess, may be deemed not possible, and may be construed as coercive.  Such relationships also may have the potential to result in claims of sexual harassment.  For more information, see Consensual Relationship Policy.