Only two UK universities have compulsory consent classes this year, Tab investigation finds

Seven universities are not running optional consent classes at all

Sexual assault and consent are still major issues at universities across the UK. In our 2017 sexual assault survey, half of students said they had been sexually assaulted, and 88 per cent said they had been groped on a night out.

In March 2018, The Guardian also reported that 62 per cent of students and graduates have experienced sexual violence, and one in 10 female students have been raped.

We asked 39 of the biggest UK universities whether they are offering consent classes to students this coming academic year, to find out how they are combatting this issue. Of the universities contacted by The Tab, only Durham and Kent said they would be holding compulsory consent classes this year.

Of the 39 universities contacted, only 25 responded, with seven confirming they would not be running consent classes. These are Aberdeen, Bournemouth, Oxford Brookes, Leicester, Lincoln, Portsmouth, and UWE. Of the universities who did not respond when asked about their plans for consent classes, eight of them are Russell Group universities.

Of the 25 universities that responded, 18 said they would be holding classes in some form, and seven said they wouldn't. However, not all of the consent classes are compulsory. Manchester are running classes, but as part of a wider campaign, they are not compulsory.

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51 per cent of students at Durham said they had been sexually assaulted, with 81 per cent also saying they had been groped on a night out. A spokesperson for Durham University said: "All new starters will receive Induction Awareness Talks that cover core messages related to consent and sexual violence and misconduct. All first year students are required to complete the online Consent Matters: Boundaries, Respect and Positive Intervention".

The University of Kent also told The Tab: "The University of Kent expects all students to behave with respect towards one another during their time with us and adhere to the Student Charter and the Respect at Kent Policy.

"As part of this all new students are required to complete a compulsory online e-module called Expect Respect within six months of arriving at the University. This helps introduce new students to the Student Charter and Respect at Kent policy and raise awareness of issues around sexual respect including consent."

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A female student from Durham told The Tab: "I think it’s a really positive step by the uni. Historically Durham has been notoriously bad for sexual misconduct cases, with a notable lack of concrete action by the uni. Whilst many people don’t experience anything negative, the lad culture/ sports and society drinking culture combined with a lack of discussion around consent has led to some really unpleasant incidents in the last few years.

"I think it’s a long overdue step by the uni and hopefully will help promote a healthy discussion on the topic."

Southampton University told The Tab they would be holding classes on consent, but added: "We believe that consent workshops may not be the most effective way of sharing information about consent to the broader and less engaged student population".

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The University of Liverpool said that the classes they had run in a previous academic year "were well-received and will be run again in the coming academic year", and the University of East Anglia also told The Tab: "To date, 1,200 people at UEA have undertaken the online Consent Matters training since it was introduced last year".

The Tab's survey found that 80 per cent of students had never been to a consent class.

Of the 20 per cent who had attended a class, 55 per cent said they were useful, compared to 26 per cent who said the classes were not useful, and 19 per cent who were unsure.

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According to The Tab's survey, 85 per cent of students said sexual consent classes should be compulsory prior to coming to university, nine per cent said they should be compulsory at uni, and six per cent said that they should not be compulsory in any form.

A student at the University of Liverpool, one of the universities running consent classes, said: "I think that there’s an unfair stigma surrounding the nature of consent classes, mainly that their aim is to be patronising, or belittling. In reality, terms like consent and sexual harassment are much more complex than we often imagine them to be, and consent classes are extremely important to helping raise awareness and understanding".

The Tab's survey of students found that 17.66 per cent of people found consent classes patronising, compared to nearly 50 per cent of people who said that they were not patronising.

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Over 100 students at Oxford Brookes, one of the universities not running classes on consent this year, answered The Tab's sexual assault survey, with 51 per cent saying they had been sexually assaulted, with 60 per cent answering that the perpetrator was someone they knew. 82 per cent said that classes on consent should be mandatory before uni, and 12 per cent said they should be compulsory at uni.

Emily, an Oxford Brookes student, told The Tab: "I’d say that in a world where men and women are suffering sexual assault and harassment on the daily, it's disappointing and embarrassing that a university responsible for nearly 20,000 people is neglecting a class that could potentially prevent future traumas."

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Emily continued: "I agree that consent classes should be offered in primary schools and secondary schools as a priority, however, universities are where young people tend to 'find themselves', so having this kind of education alongside that would be extremely beneficial to the welfare of students.

"As for whether they’d work, I think for some they will and some they sadly won’t, but at this point, with half of Brookes students having been sexually assaulted, it’s worth a shot."

A representative from Oxford Brookes' Students' Union told The Tab: "The Union takes matters of sexual violence extremely seriously and we undertake a range of initiatives throughout the year.

"For example, our Women’s Officer invites local sexual violence services in to deliver workshops and run sessions as part of International Women’s Week. We work very closely with our local rape crisis centre and police-managed Independent Sexual Violence Advocacy Service throughout the year. The Union is also currently working with the University to develop a reporting tool for students."

Related stories this writer recommends:

1) Named and shamed: The universities still charging for tampons

2) Revealed: The universities that explicitly accept sexual assault as an extenuating circumstance

3) ‘I have never felt more threatened’: Girls at Warwick speak out against the boys group chat

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