Consent: Learning that ‘no’ means ‘NO’

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**TRIGGER WARNING: rape, sexual assault**

There has been significant debate this week over the recent controversy of consent classes being introduced to Russell Group Universities throughout the country. The classes were devised in order to reduce sexual harassment, whilst teaching students what does and does not constitute as consent. The Gryphon explores why consent education is a necessary and integral part for the movement away from rape culture and address the current warped view of rape.

Last week, a Warwick student openly and publicly expressed his offence at being invited to a consent class, claiming he does not need to be taught how not to be a rapist. He then posted a picture captioned ‘this is not what a rapist looks like’. But the underlying fact that he ignored is that no one looks like a rapist. By making this claim, his protest further fuels the media portrayal of rape as something that only occurs between females and violent predators down the back of an alley in tragic and unfortunate circumstances: this is what needs disputing.

According to Rape Crisis approximately 85,000 women and 12,000 men are raped in England and Wales each year. Whilst there is a notable disproportional difference between the numbers of male and female rapes, this does not discredit that fact that females are not the only victims of rape, just as males are not the only perpetrators. Claims have been made that consent classes promote the idea that men are sex-crazed animals, unable to stop themselves when told ‘NO’. Consent classes give students not only an understanding of how to prevent rape, but acknowledge that, no matter who it was, if it was not consensual, it is rape. Men who reject the chance to learn about consent in relation to their own bodies are only succumbing to the common preconception that men cannot be raped.

Rape is defined as unlawful sexual intercourse carried out forcibly and/or without consent. This can range from a stranger who corners you in a dark alleyway and forces themselves upon you to a person who believes they are having consensual sex, but has in fact manipulated their partner into it. In cases such as that of Annie Teriba, the perpetrator believes they are partaking in consensual sex: “at this year’s NUS black students’ conference, I had sex with someone. The other party later informed me that the sex was not consensual. I failed to properly establish consent before every act”.

Incidents like this happen because there are people out there who do not understand consent. It is evident in the overwhelming cases of sexual harassment girls have to face every day – being subjected to catcalling in the streets or being touched inappropriately in clubs. Consent is not just about sex, it is recognising when someone is uncomfortable with your proximity, your language, or your general actions.

This lack of focus on what consent entails leads to the forming of dangerous stereotypes that rape only happens down dark alleys, between stranger and victim, and results in rapists being viewed as an inconceivable and distant ‘other’. In reality, ninety-seven percent of women calling rape crisis helplines know their attackers and eighty percent are raped at home. Far from violent predators and back-alleys, these rapes were perpetrated by friends, acquaintances, and colleagues, in what should be a ‘safe’ space. We are taught to be fearful of strangers, of suspect-looking males at nighttime, not of people we trust in the home.

A survey at Cambridge University found that almost a third of its students had been sexually assaulted, with three in every hundred students having been subjected to assault by penetration. A further seven Russell Group universities admitted that they do not record allegations of rapes, sexual assaults, and sexual harassment and one in five did not have guidelines in place on how to report incidents of rape confidentially as of May this year.

The notion that rape only happens between strangers leads people to misunderstand what constitutes consent. It allows people to believe that they are not capable of committing rape, because they would never purposefully attack a woman. Whilst there may be some truth in this, if ‘back-alley’ rape is our only conception of rape then we do clearly need educating on the matter. Claiming ‘this is not what a rapist looks like’ means that you do not fully understand the concept of consent. You do not understand that rape can happen between anyone, anywhere. The fact that universities are finally accepting their role in countering sexual harassment is a drastic improvement on the days in which victims were ignored and forms a vital step towards reducing the number of rape victims that do not come forward. Consent workshops are not designed to be offensive; they are designed to be defensive and to re-educate a generation who views rape as something that happens, just not to them.

Hannah Ryder

Anyone who has been affected by issues related to this article, you can seek help via services available at LUU: https://www.luu.org.uk/helpandadvice/healthandwellbeing/rapeandsexualassault/ or call SARSVL on 0808 8023344

Images: theweek.com

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