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Should they even be asking?

Updated: Jun 29, 2023

Consent between people becomes much more complicated when they have significantly differing positions of power in the world. In some cases it is expressly impossible to have consent between individuals, making relationships illegal between a therapist or a probation officer and their clients, for example.

So, in some cases, no, they should not be asking.

In many other cases power differentials between people don’t explicitly prohibit relationships, but do make the ability to consent of the person with less power questionable. Particularly when the person with more power is responsible for the financial or academic success of the other, it is extremely easy for interactions to result in harassment.

People who know that they have significantly more power than someone that they’re attracted to need to take responsibility for maintaining an environment where everyone can be comfortable. Even expressing that there is an attraction can be a form of harassment.

For people who are in a less powerful position and who may have questioned whether they should be so upset about the “compliment” from a work supervisor, or an academic advisor; trust your instincts. They should not be making their desires known, putting you in a position where you have to wonder if you will be treated fairly in a professional environment.

In our book, Creating Consent Culture: A Handbook for Educators, we talk about power differentials and consent. Proximity to power and privilege is not a simplistic gradient. Many factors play a role in people’s lives and most of us have more privilege in some areas and less in others.

One tool that is very helpful to visualize this is called a power/privilege wheel and looks something like this:

Look at this chart. Where do you have more proximity to power, and where do you have less? Does this help you to understand the power differentials between yourself and those you interact with?

To learn more about power differentials and consent, or to find out more about the workshop or the book, come learn more at my website,

Order the book here!

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