University Accidentally Says Disabled People Can't Consent to Sex

Wording error.



University sexual misconduct policies often use confusing and contradictory language, but Armstrong State University's policy might be the first to contain an error as glaring as this one: no one who has a "physical and/or mental impairment" is capable of consenting to sex, according to Armstrong.

Under the consent section of the policy:

1) Consent can be given by word or action, but non-verbal consent is more ambiguous than explicitly stating one's wants and limitations. Clarification of a partner's explicit consent is recommended.

2) Consent to one form of sexual activity should not, and cannot, be taken as consent to any other sexual activity.

3) Individuals who consent to sex must be able to fully understand what they are doing. For example, alcohol or other drugs may impair a person's ability to give valid consent if the person cannot comprehend the who, what, where, when, why, or how of a sexual interaction. Consumption of alcohol, in and of itself, does not relieve an individual initiating sexual activity of the responsibility to obtain ongoing consent.

4) Silence—without clear actions demonstrating permission—cannot be assumed to indicate consent.

5) In addition, persons under the age of 16 and persons who have a physical and/or mental impairment are unable to give consent.

(Emphasis mine.) I would interpret this policy to mean that amputees cannot consent to sex, even if they are perfectly healthy otherwise. This is an absurd—and frankly, insulting—restriction of the rights of the mildly disabled.

As it turns out, the wording was a mistake. The Washington Examiner's Ashe Schow asked Armstrong administrators about the policy, and they said an error had been made:

When asked to clarify the policy, Armstrong's Title IX coordinator Deidra Dennie told the Washington Examiner that the policy currently posted on the website was missing words and would be fixed shortly.

"Unfortunately the policy you have was corrected but not re-posted to our website. The words 'that inhibit' were added to clarify this specific definition," Dennie said. "I apologize that our website was not kept up to date with the actual policy in circulation."

She also indicated that Armstrong was in the process of approving a new code of conduct — including its sexual misconduct policy — that would include a more detailed definition of consent for the coming school year.

It appears the university was unaware that its stated policy — in effect since September 8, 2014 — suggested physically disabled students could not consent to sexual activities.

There's plenty to dislike in the rest of the policy—which assumes that sexual encounters always have an initiating party—but at least the most insane provision was unintentional.