Chapter 1 - Consent Subchapter: Moving the line

Moving the line basics

Key points

  • Moving the line means taking action when someone else is a no or I don’t know on a shared decision.
  • Moving the line breaks the rules of the Field Model.
  • It is different to hurting someone’s feelings, which may or may not be a line move.
  • Only the victim gets to decide how upset they want to be about a line move.
  • There are differences between disrespect and abuse, partly to do with intent.
  • It’s vitally important to respect a person’s no, on a shared decision. 
  • Sometimes the word no can be misused.
  • An abusive no is when someone applies the Field Model rules around shared decisions to an individual decision, using it to control and limit another person’s freedom.


Breaking the Field Model rules

The Field Model diagram with one character Yes and another character No. The Yes character moves the Yes line all the way past No and bowls over the other character and turns the whole space into the Action Zone.


The Field Model is all about preserving our own individual freedoms and rights, and recognising those of others.

It reminds us that other people have their own rich inner worlds, to Stop Ask Listen when we engage with someone, and to follow rules around Yes No I Don’t Know when we negotiate consent.

In the Field Model, both people need to agree on a shared decision to cross the Yes line and enter the Action Zone.

If someone ignores the rules and takes action without that agreement, we call this moving the line, because it’s like one person picked up the Yes line and dragged it over the rest of the field and said, “Now everything’s an Action Zone, let’s go!”

Line moves break the rules of the Field Model. They are at least disrespectful, and at worst abusive.


What’s the difference between moving the line and hurting someone’s feelings?

There are all sorts of ways we can hurt and upset each other, even in good relationships:

  • He said he would pick me up but then he didn’t show
  • She was flirting with someone else
  • He kept pushing drinks on me
  • She kept putting my hand on her bum
  • He took my car without asking
  • She was gossiping about me with her workmates
  • He showed my pictures to his friends


But only some of these are line moves; the rest are just things that someone did that made you upset.


A man speaks aggressively to a woman and she goes quiet. He looks away, then she looks down, hurt.


How do you tell the difference? The key is whether or not it’s a shared decision.

People can make all sorts of personal decisions that upset us, but they are not line moves because they don’t infringe on our individual rights. For example:

  • He said he would pick me up but then he didn’t show (that’s rude and breaking an agreement, but not infringing on your rights)
  • She was flirting with someone else (maybe a sign she’s not into your relationship, or maybe just normal communication, but either way not infringing on your rights)

But decisions where someone else involves ourselves, our body or property are clearly line moves:

  • He kept pushing drinks on me (“Do you want a drink?” “No.” *Then pushing drink in your face anyway = line move because you have a right to not drink*)
  • She kept putting my hand on her bum (“Can you squeeze my bum?” “No.” *Then putting hand on her bum = line move because you have a right to your own personal space*)
  • He took my car without asking (“Can I take your car?” “No.” *Taking car anyway = line move because you have rights over your own property*)


What about personal information and privacy?

One area where things get more complicated is personal information, because we have trouble agreeing on what rights we have around what kinds of information:

  • She was gossiping about me with her workmates (Maybe rude, but what would make it a line move? Is this a shared decision? Do we need to ask permission before we say anything about anyone? Where do freedom of speech rights clash with privacy rights?)
  • He showed my photos to his friends (What would make this a line move? Do we own all images of ourselves? Even ones that we don’t take? Do we give up our ownership if we share that photo with someone else? Is this a clash of property, speech and privacy rights? These questions get clearer as we start to define revenge porn as a crime, but there’s still a lot of tricky territory.)

See also: Sexting Laws and Image-Based Abuse


It’s a lot to get your head around

What we’re trying to say here is that line moves are not always clear, so it’s worth getting on the same page about what is acceptable and unacceptable behaviour in our society.

The Field Model can help us understand what’s clear—and if there are any grey areas, at least we can agree what those grey areas are and what makes them so grey.


The victim gets to decide how upset they should be

It’s easy to identify a line move: if it’s a shared decision, and one person takes action without the other person being in free agreement, then it’s a line move.

It doesn’t matter if it was a big or small decision, a line move is always a line move. The person moving the line was wrong, and the person who was moved on has a right to be upset.

But how important or upsetting is this line move?

That depends on a few questions:

  • What was the decision?
  • What were the circumstances?
  • How often is the line moved in this relationship?


For example, it’s possible to be very upset if someone leaves your milk open on the kitchen bench, but relatively laid back if someone crashes into your car. Your reaction will depend on the context and content.

Or you might be tolerant of someone groping you once, but if they do it a couple more times you get angry.

Content and context matters, but it’s the victim who looks at the content and context and decides how upsetting the line move was. The mover is not entitled to say, “It’s not a big deal, it’s nothing, you’re over-reacting.”


The difference between disrespect and abuse

While the victim determines how upsetting a line move is, there is some objective difference between scales of line move—the threshold between disrespect and abuse.

  • Disrespect is when someone takes action without caring or considering the other person.
  • Abuse is when someone takes action specifically to hurt or control another person.


If someone sees your chips on the table, and just eats them because they feel hungry and they don’t really think about you, that’s disrespectful.


If someone sees your chips and eats them as a way to punish you, hurt you or mess with your head, then that’s abusive.


  • Both situations are line moves.
  • In both cases, the victim decides how upset they should be.
  • But one situation is disrespect, the other is abuse.


The healthy no, and the abusive no

A mean looking illustrated character picks up the whole Field Model diagram and looks to squash another startled character under it.


In the Field Model, no is a really important word.

If we are all individuals with our own inner worlds, our own rights and freedoms, then one of our greatest rights is the ability to say no to any shared personal decision.

Line moves are significant because they ignore or deprive someone of that right to say no.

But the word no can be misused. When someone imposes themselves on another person’s personal decision (I want to eat a burger, I want to have my own bank account, I want to go out with my friends etc) then saying no can become controlling and abusive.

In this situation, no becomes a way to control another person and limit their freedom rather than preserve it.

So it’s important to always be looking at the decision, and working out if it is personal or shared before you apply the Field Model.