Catriona Morton: the Concept of Consent

Catriona Morton is the host of BBC Sounds podcast After: Surviving Sexual Assault, founder of the survivor blog/resource sharing website Life Continues After, and author of The Way we Survive. Catriona is a trained facilitator and has received complete training from Rape Crisis.

A drawing of a very colourful landscape with mountains covered in flowers, some more delicate and friendly, and some others more spiky. The word "words" is written as part of the grass and at the front of this landscape there is a huge open gate. On the image it reads: 'It's open, but I won't look unless you want me to'

In June of this year (2021), a month before my book, The Way We Survive: Notes on Rape Culture, was released into the world, I was having a long-overdue conversation with my ex-boyfriend. We had been young loves, and we finally ended our often-tumultuous romance almost three years ago. We’d lost touch for those few years, but after the recent passing of a mutual friend, we suddenly realised it was pointless to forgo a deep friendship when you never truly know how short life may be. 


On this June evening, we were trying to catch up whilst I was dashing around London, between therapy and seeing a friend. I had to interrupt our conversation multiple times: “can I call you back in twenty minutes? I’m just getting on the tube!”. When I was finally back in South London, walking to my flat, we began to broach the topic of my upcoming book. I told him that there were aspects of our story in there – how he’d helped me in various ways – and that there were various parts I was leaving out. 


Then he asked me the question I never knew I needed to hear from him: ‘are you okay with me reading it?’ I replied without truly thinking about it, in my socialised feminine helpfulness, that of course I was okay with it. He circled back immediately: ‘I would understand if you weren’t, I only want to read it if you’re actually comfortable with it?’ I truly heard the question this second time and reflected on the fact that I was honestly okay with it. I felt warmed and cared for by the fact that he truly considered my consent in this situation that many may overlook. 


My book, as with any book, is obviously available for anyone who wants to purchase it or lend it to read. This is wonderful, and what publishing is intended for. But, when a book on your own trauma comes out, it can be easy to feel overwhelmed if you think too pointedly on the fact that everyone you’ve ever known in your life now has access to these deep, raw thoughts and experiences of yours. To have this reality of discomfort recognised was refreshing.


Consent as a concept isn’t limited to just sexual acts, and the interaction with my ex stands out in my mind as a perfect example of active consent in a friendship. Of course he would have wanted to read the book, but he put my comfort and interests ahead of his own, truly listening to my needs. Most importantly, he asked that simple question, interpreted the lack of consideration in my initial polite answer, and then took the time to ask again. I can confidently say that, had my answer been no, he would have followed my request and refrained from reading it. To have this level of respect and understanding in a friendship is so special, and I’m grateful for the care paid by this friend. 


Catriona’s book The Way We Survive: Notes on Rape Culture, which explores rape culture and surviving sexual violence, is available now, you can get it here.

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