Consent, Force, and Alcohol

Sexual Misconduct Policy - Consent, Force and Alcohol

Consent, Force, Coercion, Incapacitation, Alcohol and other Drugs


Under New York law, affirmative consent means: knowing, voluntary, and mutual decision among all participants to engage in sexual activity. Consent can be given by words or actions, as long as those words or actions create clear permission regarding willingness to engage in the sexual activity. Silence or lack of resistance, in and of itself, does not demonstrate consent. The definition of consent does not vary based upon a participant’s sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, or gender express.

  • Consent to any sexual act or prior consensual sexual activity between or with any party does not necessarily constitute consent to any other sexual act.
  • Consent is required regardless of whether the person initiating the act is under the influence of drugs and/or alcohol.
  • Consent may be initially given but withdrawn at any time.
  • Consent cannot be given when a person is incapacitated, which occurs when an individual lacks the ability to knowingly choose to participate in sexual activity. Incapacitation may be caused by the lack of consciousness or being asleep, being involuntarily restrained, or if an individual otherwise cannot consent. Depending on the degree of intoxication, someone who is under the influence of alcohol, drugs, or other intoxicants may be incapacitated and therefore unable to consent.
  • Consent cannot be given when it is the result of any coercion, intimidation, force, or threat of harm.
  • When consent is withdrawn or can no longer be given, sexual activity must stop.


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


Incapacitation is a state where an individual cannot make an informed and rational decision to engage in sexual activity because he/she lacks conscious knowledge of the nature of the act (e.g., to understand the “who, what, when, where, why or how” of the sexual interaction) and/or is physically helpless. An individual is incapacitated, and therefore unable to give consent, if he/she is asleep, unconscious, or otherwise unaware that sexual activity is occurring.

Incapacitation may result from the use of alcohol and/or drugs. Consumption of alcohol or other drugs alone is insufficient to establish incapacitation. The impact of alcohol and other drugs varies from person to person, and evaluating incapacitation requires an assessment of how the consumption of alcohol and/or drugs impact an individual’s:

  • Decision-making ability;
  • Awareness of consequences;
  • Ability to make informed judgments; or
  • Capacity to appreciate the nature and the quality of the act.

Evaluating incapacitation also requires an assessment of whether a respondent knew or should have known, that the complainant was incapacitated.

Alcohol and Other Drugs

In general, sexual contact while under the influence of alcohol or other drugs poses a risk to all parties. Alcohol and other drugs impair a person’s decision-making capacity, awareness of the consequences, and ability to make informed judgments. It is especially important, therefore, that anyone engaging in sexual activity be aware of the other person’s level of intoxication. If there is any doubt as to the level or extent of the other individual’s intoxication or impairment, the prudent course of action is to forgo or cease any sexual contact or activity

Being intoxicated or impaired by alcohol or other drugs is never an excuse for sexual misconduct, relationship violence, sexual harassment, or stalking and does not diminish one’s responsibility to obtain consent.