Why consent workshops are a necessity

80 per cent of rape victims know their attacker

It’s Wednesday of week two, and the SU’s “I Heart Consent” workshops are in full swing. As the campus Women’s Officer I’ve been running around making sure my volunteers are prepared, their hands full of sticky notes, their heads full of ice breaker games. So when I read an article claiming an invitation to these workshops is “an insult”, I’ll admit, I was angry.

The author implied I Heart Consent workshops are classes which teach men not to rape, and an invitation to one is therefore tantamount to an accusation. He felt uncomfortable with the idea that he himself, “a decent empathetic human being”, was being implicated in a crime he would never commit.

The truth is, I’m not sorry my workshop made this writer feel uncomfortable. The first time I was confronted with the statistic that 80 per cent of rape survivors know their attacker, I felt the same. When I thought about this and realised most rapists are normal members of society, I felt sick. I still do feel sick when I think about the cycles of abuse perpetrated by partners, parents, and friends of people I know. Self-styled “decent, empathetic human beings”, like this writer.

The problem of sexual violence only gets worse at universities. If, as this writer claims “Russell group students” understand the nuances of consent, how do we explain the fact that one in seven women students will be raped or sexually assaulted during their time at university? This epidemic is going unseen and un-talked about.

This is why when I heard that NUS were running trainings for sexual consent workshops, I wanted to join the conversation.  I wanted to run workshops which debunk the common myth which people like this writer still seem to believe, that “Rape only occurs between strangers in dark alleys.” He took a picture with a sign, proclaiming “This is not what a rapist looks like”, when the truth is, it is.

I’m not saying this writer himself has sexually assaulted someone but he seems to believe there is a particular profile of person that would, who’s too busy lurking in the shadows somewhere to attend a consent workshop.

The truth is, sexual violence is enabled on a cultural scale. Columnists in broadsheet newspapers write of women “asking for it”, catcalling and groping is an everyday part of the lives of women and LGBTUA+ people, and many people think it’s as simple as “Yes means yes” and “No means no” when our workshops teach there’s a spectrum of misunderstandings in between, and consent can only be an enthusiastic yes.

On this campus, Warwick sports teams chant songs about rape. A friend of mine from a club here at Warwick told me about a pre-drinks in which members of his club raised their voices as one in the chant. An exec member who had attended an I Heart Consent workshop last year told them to stop, mindful of survivors in the room who would be traumatised, and perpetrators who would be empowered.

This is what these workshops are all about. We’re starting a conversation, raising awareness of an issue too often misunderstood. Part of that is targeting potential perpetrators, but another part is empowering survivors and giving general students the chance to learn how their actions form part of a culture and how they can make those actions more supportive to survivors of sexual assault at Warwick and beyond.

I hope our critics can learn to do this too. You may not like our consent workshops, but please, have a heart.