Consent Laws
District of Columbia

Last Updated: March 2020
Defining Consent Answer

How is consent defined?

Consent” means words or overt actions indicating a freely given agreement to the sexual act or contact in question. Lack of verbal or physical resistance or submission by the victim, resulting from the use of force, threats, or coercion by the defendant shall not constitute consent. D.C. Code § 22-3001(4).

“Force” means the use or threatened use of a weapon; the use of such physical strength or violence as is sufficient to overcome, restrain, or injure a person; or the use of a threat of harm sufficient to coerce or compel submission by the victim. D.C. Code § 22-3001(5).

Does the definition require "freely given consent" or "affirmative consent"?

Yes. Consent to the sexual act or contact in question must be freely given agreement. D.C. Code § 22-3001(4).






Capacity to Consent Answer

At what age is a person able to consent?

16 years old. D.C. Code § 22-3001(3).

Does difference in age between the victim and actor impact the victim's ability to consent?

Yes.

  • Sexual Abuse of a Child
    • A child, defined as a person under the age of 16, cannot consent to sexual acts or sexual contact with a person who is 4 or more years older. D.C. Code §§ 22-3008, 22-3009; In re M.S., 171 A.3d 155 (D.C. 2017).
  • Sexual Abuse of a Minor
    • A minor, defined as a person under the age of 18, in a “significant relationship” with a person who is over 18, cannot consent to sexual acts or sexual contact with such person. D.C. Code §§ 22-3009.01, 22-3009.02.

"Significant relationship" includes:

    • A parent, sibling, aunt, uncle, or grandparent, whether related by blood, marriage, domestic partnership, or adoption;
    • A legal or de facto guardian or any person, more than 4 years older than the victim, who resides intermittently or permanently in the same dwelling as the victim;
    • The person or the spouse, domestic partner, or paramour of the person who is charged with any duty or responsibility for the health, welfare, or supervision of the victim at the time of the act; and
    • Any employee or volunteer of a school, church, synagogue, mosque, or other religious institution, or an educational, social, recreational, athletic, musical, charitable, or youth facility, organization, or program, including a teacher, coach, counselor, clergy, youth leader, chorus director, bus driver, administrator, or support staff, or any other person in a position of trust with or authority over a child or a minor. D.C. Code § 22-3001(10).

Does elderly age impact the victim’s ability to consent?

No.

Does developmental disability and/or mental incapacity impact the victim’s ability to consent?

Yes. A person is unable to consent to engaging in a sexual act if such person is incapable of appraising the nature of the conduct. D.C. Code §§ 22-3003(2)(A)-(C), 22-3005(2)(A)-(C).

Does physical disability, incapacity or helplessness impact the victim’s ability to consent?

Yes. A person is unable to consent to engaging in a sexual act if such person is:

  • Incapable of declining participation in that sexual act; or
  • Incapable of communicating unwillingness to engage in that sexual act.

D.C. Code §§ 22-3003(2)(B)-(C), 22-3005(2)(B)-(C).

Does consciousness impact the victim’s ability to consent?

Yes. A person is unable to consent to engaging in a sexual act if such person is:

  • Incapable of appraising the nature of the conduct;
  • Incapable of declining participation in that sexual act; or
  • Incapable of communicating unwillingness to engage in that sexual act.

D.C. Code §§ 22-3003(2)(A)-(C), 22-3005(2)(A)-(C).

Does intoxication impact the victim’s ability to consent?

Yes. A victim’s ability to consent is impacted by his/her intoxication due to a drug, intoxicant, or other similar substance that substantially impairs the ability of that other person to appraise or control his or her conduct, given involuntarily or unknowingly given to the victim by the accused. D.C. Code § 22-3002, 22-3004(4).

Does the relationship between the victim and actor impact the victim’s ability to consent?

Yes.

Sexual Abuse of a Minor:

  • A minor, defined as a person under the age of 18, in a "significant relationship" with a person who is over 18 cannot consent to sexual acts or sexual contact with such person. D.C. Code §§ 22-3009.01, 22-3009.02. "Significant relationship" includes:
    • A parent, sibling, aunt, uncle, or grandparent, whether related by blood, marriage, domestic partnership, or adoption;
    • A legal or de facto guardian or any person, more than 4 years older than the victim, who resides intermittently or permanently in the same dwelling as the victim;
    • The person or the spouse, domestic partner, or paramour of the person who is charged with any duty or responsibility for the health, welfare, or supervision of the victim at the time of the act; and
    • Any employee or volunteer of a school, church, synagogue, mosque, or other religious institution, or an educational, social, recreational, athletic, musical, charitable, or youth facility, organization, or program, including a teacher, coach, counselor, clergy, youth leader, chorus director, bus driver, administrator, or support staff, or any other person in a position of trust with or authority over a child or a minor. D.C. Code § 22-3001(10).

Sexual Abuse of a Secondary Education Student:

  • A student under the age of 20 years enrolled in a secondary level school cannot consent to sexual acts or sexual conduct with any teacher, counselor, principal, coach, or other person of authority in that school or school system. D.C. Code §§ 22–3009.03, 22-3009.04.

Sexual Abuse of a Ward

  • A ward, patient, client, or prisoner, as applicable, cannot consent to sexual conduct with any staff member, employee, contract employee, consultant, or volunteer at a hospital, treatment facility, detention or correctional facility, group home, or other institution; anyone who is an ambulance driver or attendant, a bus driver or attendant, or person who participates in the transportation of a ward, patient, client, or prisoner to and from such institutions; or any official custodian of a ward, patient, client, or prisoner. D.C. Code §§ 22–3013, 22-3014.

Sexual Abuse of a Patient or Client

  • A patient or client cannot consent to sexual conduct with any person who purports to provide, in any manner, professional services of a medical, therapeutic, or counseling (whether legal, spiritual, or otherwise) nature, or is otherwise in a professional relationship of trust with the patient/client if:
    • (1) The actor represents falsely that the sexual contact is for a bona fide medical or therapeutic purpose, or for a bona fide professional purpose for which the services are being provided;
    • (2) The nature of the treatment or service provided by the actor and the mental, emotional, or physical condition of the patient or client are such that the actor knows or has reason to know that the patient or client is impaired from declining participation in the sexual contact;
    • (3) The actor represents falsely that he or she is licensed as a particular type of professional; OR
    • (4) The sexual act or contact occurs during the course of a consultation, examination, treatment, therapy, or other provision of professional services.

         D.C. Code §§ 22–3015, 22-3016.






Defenses Answer

Is consent a defense to sex crimes?

Yes. Consent by the victim is a defense to sex crimes (including attempted sexual abuse under D.C. Code §§ 22-3018 & 22-403) other than crimes involving:

  • child sexual abuse; or
  • sexual abuse of a minor. D.C. Code § 22–3007.

Is voluntary intoxication a defense to sex crimes?

No.









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