Here at the Rape Crisis Center, we talk a lot about consent and boundaries. We talk about the importance of practicing these things outside of the context of sex as part of the process of undoing rape culture and cultivating healthy and respectful relationships.
The skills for setting boundaries and asking for consent can, and should, be applied to personal health and safety around covid. Having support for holding those boundaries is especially important because of the large-scale denial and gaslighting we are seeing around the danger of covid.
Multiple states, including Nevada, have started the process of reopening even though there is not yet a vaccine available. Policies and application of safety strategies like physical distancing, sanitizing routines, and mask use vary widely from place to place. Many people still claim that covid is not serious, or is a hoax, or are refusing to observe safety practices like wearing a mask. We are hearing a lot of rhetoric that equates safety protocols with a violation of personal rights.
Maybe you have experienced someone criticizing you or belittling you for trying to maintain physical distancing or wearing a mask. Maybe you have already had someone violate or dismiss one of your boundaries around these things.
You have a right to set boundaries around covid safety protocols.
You have a right to be safe from actions by others which endanger your health.
You do not have to be immunocompromised or immune-suppressed in order for your concerns to be valid.
Setting and holding boundaries during this time may be difficult, even if you usually find that process easy under normal circumstances. Here are some key steps that may help you in this process:
Identify your boundaries.
Do you want to continue observing physical distancing? Do you feel comfortable in public without a mask? Are you okay with others entering your space (like your office at work) without a mask on? Do you expect others to wash their hands before entering your space? There are numerous recommendations from the CDC and other trusted health resources that can help you make these decisions.
Practice with a supportive person.
Identify someone you trust and ask them if they are willing to help you with setting your boundaries, and offer to do the same for them. Practice stating your boundaries to one another. Work together to think about how to handle different responses from others. For example, how will you respond to someone who says you’re being overly-cautious?
Demonstrate respect for others’ boundaries.
Ask others about their boundaries around covid. Initiate conversations with friends, family, and coworkers about their comfort level with different safety protocols. If there are people outside your home with whom you are socializing, be proactive in asking about their boundaries when communicating your own.
Support businesses that are committed to health and safety protocols.
If there are businesses that you or friends are aware of that are handling safety measures in a way you feel comfortable with, share that information on social media and with friends and family who share your concerns about risk. At a time when many small businesses are struggling, supporting those that value your health and safety is a clear way to vote with your dollars.
Although a global pandemic is a situation none of us have faced before, we can still apply the same basic skills around consent and boundaries. Respect and open communication are just as appropriate for discussions around covid safety as they are around sex.