A Guide for Talking about Relationships, Consent, and Sexual Violence

Pitt is deeply committed to eradicating all forms of sexual misconduct on campus.  In early 2020 the University opened the Sexual Violence Prevention and Education Office.  This office works with campus partners to facilitate sexual violence prevention programming throughout the year.  Many of these initiatives include facilitating dialogues with Pitt students around important topics like, healthy relationships, consent, bystander intervention and supporting friends who have experienced sexual violence.  We know that these conversations are an important part of building a safe and respectful campus.  As a result, we ask that you join the movement to eradicate sexual violence by talking about these issues with people you care about.  This webpage was created to help provide guidance and resources for having these conversations and for learning more about University initiatives, policies and support resources.  

Discussion Questions

We encourage you to engage in ongoing conversations about consent, healthy relationships and sexuality, dating, and University resources.  We suggest asking open ended questions that provide the opportunity for dialogue.  If you feel comfortable, you may want to draw on experiences from your own life, TV shows or stories in the media.  Below, we have included discussion questions to help guide these important conversations.  Under “additional resources” you will find videos you can watch and discuss. 

  • What messages have you received about relationships and sexuality?  How have these messages shaped your own thoughts and feelings about sex and relationships?
  • What does a healthy, fulfilling relationship look like to you?  What does a healthy sexuality look like to you?
  • What are some different ways a person can communicate their interests and boundaries in a dating relationship?  What about in a sexual relationship?
  • How can the use of drugs or alcohol impact a person’s ability to consent to sexual activity?
  • What are some examples of pressuring or coercing someone into sex?  What can you do to ensure that your partner(s) does not feel pressured to having sex?
  • How would you respond if you were worried that a friend was in an abusive or controlling relationship?
  • How can you support a friend who has experienced sexual violence?

Defining Sexual Misconduct

Sexual Assault is defined as any sexual act directed against another person, without consent of the victim, including instances where the victim is incapable of giving consent.

Dating Violence is defined as violence committed by a person who is or has been in a social relationship of a romantic or intimate nature with the victim.  Dating violence includes, but is not limited to, sexual or physical abuse or the threat of such abuse.

Stalking is defined as engaging in a course of conduct directed at a specific person that would cause a reasonable person to:

  • Fear for the person’s safety or the safety of others; or
  • Suffer substantial emotional distress.

​An Overview of Consent

Consent is actively agreeing to engage in sexual activity with another person(s). Consent is never implied regardless of relationship status or a previous sexual relationship.  Consent is not permanent, it can be withdrawn at any time.  Sexual activity without consent is sexual assault.

Consent is all about communication.  When talking about consent, we use the acronym FRIES.  Consent is Freely given, Reversible, Informed, Enthusiastic, and Specific.  All partners must be willing participants in all sexual activity.  Sex is not consensual if there is pressure, coercion, manipulation, or force involved.  A person cannot consent if they are incapacitated due to alcohol or drugs.

Additional Educational Resources

University Resources and Policies Related to Sexual Violence

University Prevention and Education Initiatives

  • A robust peer-education program, Sexual Assault Facilitation and Education (SAFE), that trains peer educators to engage their peers in dialogue around issues such as healthy relationships, bystander intervention and consent. 
  • The The Survivor’s Support Network is a community of trained and caring leaders who are knowledgeable about campus and community resources and are committed to supporting survivors.  Pitt also has a Peer Survivor Support Network.
  • SETPoint Training, which offers empowerment-based self-defense (ESD) and the curriculum offers a powerful and preventative approach to reducing sexual violence. SETPoint provides participants with skills and strategies that builds confidence in their ability to make their own choices, to set appropriate boundaries in relationships, to de-escalate situations, to actively resist when boundaries are violated and to advocate for one’s self or others in the event of an assault.  
  • “Becoming a Sexual Citizen” discussion circles will take place throughout the academic year.  This curriculum is based on the academic research of Professors Jennifer S. Hirsch and Shamus Khan and will provide students an opportunity to learn about a variety of topics related to sex and sexuality while exploring personal values and beliefs about those topics.
  • Ongoing campus education.  Students will be engaged in conversations around sexual violence prevention during their summer online education, campus orientation and throughout their time at Pitt.

The Sexual Violence Prevention and Education Office is here to answer your questions.  You can contact Carrie Benson at crb103@pitt.edu.