It’s a good thing Bristol has sexual consent workshops
They should be compulsory
According to SARSAS (the charity linked with the Bristol uni consent workshops), only nine per cent of rapes are committed by “strangers”. Women are most likely to be raped by someone they know, and over 80 per cent of rapes are committed by known men with more than one in five women raped by their partners or their husbands.
If those facts make one thing abundantly clear, it’s that sexual consent isn’t simple. In the world of university, the first time living away from home, meeting new people, going out with new people, drinking too much, taking drugs, starting new relationships, ending old relationships, a simple “Yes means yes. No means no” can begin to get confused.
Reading the Participant’s Brochure from this year’s Welcome Week workshops, the initial outline of sexual consent (in the form of a Pub Quiz) is quite overwhelming. The proper understanding of sexual consent covers sexual assault, rape, unwanted kissing, touching, or molesting (particularly in public places), groping, flashing, unwanted sexual comments, being given alcohol or drugs against will, stalking and more.
For first year students, between navigating the number 16 and attempts to cook pasta in the microwave, this is surely entirely overwhelming.
What’s more, the brochure touches upon sexual consent in long-term relationships and the proper understanding that “Consent with protection does not imply consent without protection”. The effect is to underline every possible situation of consent, every “blurred line” which offers sexual abusers the opportunity to victim shame or escape guilt. From experienced to inexperienced, there is always something to learn.
Many overlook the basic nuances of rape. But students can face all kinds of harassment during their time at university. Misconceptions around consent are the fundamental cause of sexual harassment.
In the days before SWX there was Syndicate. I couldn’t walk across the dance-floor in there without having my ass groped, my boobs pinched and my face grabbed by someone after a tonguing session.
It’s safe to say I ended my Syndi days before the first term of university was out. All of the above behaviours I suffered are categorically sexual assault, yet at the time I dismissed the situation as normal for a night out. As would many others.
Laura Bates calls this “normalisation”. A lack of education over what is and is not appropriate touching has caused sexual harassment to be deemed socially acceptable. We’re choosing to overlook improper behaviour under the umbrella of alcohol induced “fun”. It’s not fun for everyone though. An NUS report found 50 per cent of participants identified “prevailing sexism, ‘laddism’ and a culture of harassment” at their universities.
The introduction of sexual consent workshops at university seems to work in response to this culture. The programme is compulsory at Oxford and Cambridge University. If the poor attendance of Bristol’s first years is anything to go by, they should be compulsory here too.
There’s an ingrained social acceptance of inappropriate sexual behaviour to overcome here. In the world of university lad culture, drinks and clubbing it’s too easy to look past the lines of sexual consent.
Admittedly, there is an unfortunate truth to consider – the people who need teaching will not go to these workshops, our culture has endowed them with an assumption of what sexual consent is. This is why we would be better off introducing the discussion of sexual consent at secondary school age. Handing a 16 year old a condom and a banana is just not enough.
Workshops are necessary though, if only to allow for the open discussion of sexual harassment, abuse and rape. They’re necessary for victims to have a better understanding of their abuse. They’re necessary to explain why we may find some situations uncomfortable. All of these benefits shouldn’t be ignored.