Dear Cambridge: An open letter from Cambridge for Consent
Problems with consent will be with us for a long time. Let’s do what we can to challenge them.
To all those that wore a teal ribbon on Caesarian Sunday,
Thank you. You’re fab, we really appreciate it.
We just got our 1200th pledge. That equates to about 10% of the undergraduate community – pretty cool, no? As recently as a few years ago, consent was not something people often discussed.
That kind of attitude is no longer acceptable. With sexual violence at an all time high in the UK, you would be hard pressed to find anyone who doesn’t know at least one person who has been sexually assaulted at some point or another. For some, it will just be an awkward grope in Cindies leaving them feeling a bit on edge for the rest of the evening, for others it will be a life-wrenching attack from which they never fully recover.
The fact that 1200 people have shown some commitment to changing this is incredible, and highlights just how far we’ve come as a community.
Sadly, signing a pledge online isn’t quite enough.
We live in a rape culture. That’s not to say you’re surrounded by rapists every time you go out, this is to say rape is normalised and trivialised. It is from the depths of this culture that victim blaming and sexual objectification rear their ugly heads. Every time we objectify someone, we perpetuate the toxic idea that that person is not human, that they exist solely for the consumption of others. All too often this consumption is violent or sexual.
This is something that can be changed. A community is made up of individuals, and as such, every one of you that commits to changing your behaviour even a little could go a long way to humanising our society’s attitude towards assault.
We’ve come up with a few simple steps.
1) Be respectful.
No, rape jokes are not funny. They never have been and they never will be. They are not ‘good chat’ and are not going to endear you to anyone. They’ll probably just make you look like a bit of a knob. The same goes for defacing our posters. Apart from anything, ‘No Means Yes’ is just really poor English, that’s not what it means so stop it.
If a survivor ever does come to you with their story; don’t brush it off. Give them the respect and kindness that they deserve. This goes for everyone; women are the ones affected most frequently and, regrettably, most systematically, but they are not the only ones.
I spoke to a male survivor recently who said he had brought up the issue of male survivors with some campaigners. Their response to this was to remind him that only 1.5% of men experience sexual violence and that this isn’t very many. He came to me later and said that this made no sense to him, yes, he said, maybe it is only 1.5%, but it was not 1.5% of him. It was 100% of him and his experience is just as valid as anyone else’s.
2) Be visible
Wearing a ribbon once does not symbolise your everlasting commitment to consent. You need to be an activist amongst your friends. If someone makes some stupid rape joke, don’t just laugh along because you don’t want to cause any trouble – call them out on it!
This does not mean you need to launch into a ten minute speech on the insidious influence of rape culture, nor does it mean you need to lose your temper. Just tell them it’s not cool, and explain why it makes you uncomfortable.
Some people don’t even realise what they’ve said isn’t okay, so calmly explain to them why this isn’t funny and move on – it doesn’t take much.
3) Inform yourself
There are a whole load of misconceptions about rape. The most common being that it only happens in a dark alley when some lurking stranger jumps out from behind a dustbin. This is actually so untrue that it makes no sense to have even got into the public consciousness at all. In fact, 85% of survivors already knew their attacker.
Likewise, the perception that false rape accusations are common. They are not. In March 2013, the Crown Prosecution Service released a study positing that only 1% of all rape accusations are false. That’s four times lower than other crimes. If you take into account that only 15% of survivors ever actually report, this figure is infinitesimal indeed. So, don’t doubt a tale of sexual assault. It’s probably true – be considerate.
4) Be self aware
Sexual assault is not synonymous with rape. It can be any unwanted sexual advance; from unsolicited touching to catcalls. What might seem funny or harmless to you could be seriously damaging for someone else. Be aware of your actions, especially when drunk, and don’t think something is okay just because no one called you out on it.
Try not to be too forward, or too handsy – if you’re in a crowded club and someone is in front of you, you really do not need to put your hands on their waist and move them out the way – just step around them. Respect people’s boundaries, they continue to exist even when that person is drunk.
A lot of this is about unlearning what we have been socialised into accepting, that doesn’t happen overnight. Don’t be hard on yourself if you slip up occasionally (I’m talking laughing at a tasteless joke, not accidentally sexually assaulting someone on the street), but keep trying.
None of this is very hard at all, but really – it could make a difference.
So, again – thank you for all the support you have given us so far. C4C will be back with a vengeance next term to hopefully effect some real, lasting change.
Stay up to date, get keen and get involved!
Cambridge for Consent
P.S: please sign the Teal Ribbon Campaign pledge!