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Why sexual consent classes should be mandatory

Written by Augusta Oliver

Consent is an issue that affects us all. We need to stop victim blaming and scapegoating and confront the issue openly.

Up to 50% of reported crimes affecting students per 1,000 residents in England and Wales are of a violent and sexual nature, according to The Complete University Guide.

The statistics were gathered from July 2015 to June 2016 and ranked university towns based on their incident rates from lowest to highest according to crimes that would affect students the most.

Defining consent may appear easy and obvious, but having attended an I Heart Consent workshop last September, I realised how broad the definition actually is. Consent is much more than simply saying yes or no and rape is not the only issue surrounding sexual assault.

Having spent my formative years on a small island, I was shocked when I heard or read the numerous complaints made by women about being cat-called or sexually harassed in public. It was something I had never been exposed to.

Although there is a lad culture present, it it ethical to mention it and subtly blame men for sexual assault on campus?

It appears in modern society that men are the main perpetrators of sexual assault. Even looking at the student union’s webpage on consent, the fourth paragraph begins, “University ‘lad’ culture is becoming increasingly common throughout UK universities, and Sussex is no different.” Although there is a lad culture present, is it ethical to mention it and subtly blame men for sexual assault on campus as a result?

University welfare officer, Grainne Gahan said: “It is important to recognise that university lad culture is a contributing factor to sexual violence on campus, but it is definitely not the only factor. I Heart Consent aims at educating everybody about consent, and give them the tools to recognise, call out, and report sexual violence whenever they see it in any context.”

She also said that she believed it would be great if the workshops were mandatory, but explained: “It is important to also have an option to opt out of the sessions in case people find them triggering or uncomfortable, as we need to protect survivors.”

Two members from last year’s Men’s Rugby committee, Jamie Dorman and Daniel Quinn, spoke about the clubs’ relationship with the campaign, their views on whether classes should be made mandatory and the experience of attending one as a male student.

“Some lads might view it as an admission of guilt, it’s not, it’s unfortunately part of everyday life.

“Some lads might view it as an admission of guilt, it’s not, it’s unfortunately part of everyday life. In 2014, the club was told that every club had to attend a workshop but only we did.

“The workshops are constantly changing, 2014 was more of a seminar but last year was less formal. They should be more conversational as it is less patronising.

“It should definitely be part of freshers week as students are joining a completely new environment.”

Despite the unions best efforts to remain neutral, it appears more could be done to protect male students as well as their female counterparts. In 2014, Siobhan Fenton wrote for the Telegraph that one in five male students were victims of sexual assault at university the year before and 37% of female students were.

Women are subjected to sexual harassment more frequently than their male equivalents. However, women are also guilty of objectifying men and there is still a high percentage of male students who have experienced sexual issues.

As a female student, I can appreciate why workshops and society focus on consent issues surrounding women being the victims. We do face harassment on a more regular basis. There is a constant thought in the back of your mind about what you wear and how it might be perceived due to what we get taught in school, as well as victim blaming in rape cases because of their clothing or behaviour.

There is an urgent problem at every university in the country and it’s not just universities. I think we have a deeply dysfunctional set of cultural morays in the country.

In regards to whether consent workshops should be made mandatory, there are mixed reviews but the majority of those interviewed agreed that they should, including the vice chancellor, Adam Tickell. He said: “My instinct is that we ought to make them a mandatory class as part of the university introduction but it is complex.

“The best evidence says that workshops should be run by independent facilitators rather than students partly because often you find the conversation can be very traumatic.

“I’d like to do it as soon as we can because my view is that there is an urgent problem at every university in the country and it’s not just universities. I think we have a deeply dysfunctional set of cultural morays in the country. But universities are places where young people come together away from lots of the boundaries of constraints and there is a problem on university campuses up and down the country.”

Consent campaign facilitator, Sarah Houston, wrote: “Personally, I would love it if in the future we can make consent workshops mandatory in freshers week. I think that attending one of the I Heart Consent Workshops allows for a space where all different types of people are challenged to examine how certain stereotypes and larger cultural stigmas (ex. slut shaming or victim blaming) may affect them without them thinking about it.”

As three students who have attended a workshop, myself, Jamie and Daniel agree that consent classes should be made compulsory, showing that they are informative and important.

I found that after attending an I Heart Consent Workshop I viewed my role in relationships completely differently

Building on from Sarah Houston’s point that students may not be aware that they are being affected by certain stigmas and social pressures, I found that after attending a workshop I viewed my role in relationships completely differently. It may sound ignorant, but after talking to a number of my female friends I realised that we all thought that a relationship meant constant consent. However, the reality is that it does not mean that and it is not okay for a partner to give periods of silent treatment or manipulate you until you give in and sleep with them.

One would assume that everyone would find sexual harassment and consent an issue that needs to be discussed, rather than a taboo.

Having written an article on consent before, I was shocked by the negative reaction I received as a result. One would assume that everyone would find sexual harassment and consent an issue that needs to be discussed, rather than a taboo. Comments ranged from being told that if their child ended up with views like mine, the commenter would kill themselves, to the opinion I had given women a bad name.

A lot of comments on the article were made by men, which highlights that this is an issue we need to resolve not just for women, but also for men. It is important that men feel more comfortable discussing their views or experiences, rather than feeling attacked and going on the defensive.

One comment was that the notion of consent classes exposed problems with the educational and parental systems, as we should be taught about consent long before we reach university.

This point is valid as many young people choose not to go on to further study, but there is not a lot we can do at this level other than educate those we can and alert those in higher positions of the community on the benefits of learning about consent, especially at a young age.

It is clear to me that we need to work together to create greater gender equality. Instead of blaming one gender more than another we should accept there is an issue with society’s general understanding of consent. However utopian this notion may be, mandatory and neutral classes appear to be the best solution to an increasingly dangerous problem.

It is an important time to think about consent as head of communications, Alexandra Fulton explained: “Halloween is actually a time of year when there is a peak in sexual violence.” A consent week is being held this week, where there will be many events such as; consent workshops, a themed night at skint plus booklets that will be handed out for all students.

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Augusta Oliver

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