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Rugby Club and Feminism Society Host Debate: 'Is There a Relationship Between Lad Culture and Sexual Violence?'

25/02/2014 11:35 GMT | Updated 26/04/2014 10:59 BST

Last week in Durham University over 200 people came together to discuss the relationship between Lad Culture and sexual violence.

Back in October I heard about a game that St. Cuthbert's Society Rugby Club played at their socials. The game involved finishing the sentence "It's not rape if..." I don't believe that playing this game is acceptable. I wrote about it for The Durham Tab. It went on to be reported in The Telegraph, The Independent and The Huffington Post. I contacted the club to get their side of the story. On behalf of his Team club captain Sam Cuthbert got in contact with me,

""It's not rape if..." is neither funny nor is it permissible and it is for this reason that I wholeheartedly apologise."

He went on to sympathise with the feminist cause saying that they'd like to "propose some means of assisting DUFemSoc in their cause. We would very much like to initiate a relationship between our two societies, not only to demonstrate our belief in the importance of the work you do but to help you do it, too. We wonder if you may need extra help at upcoming events or talks and, if so, we urge you to contact us as we will no doubt be able to help!"

Four months later Durham university feminism society and St Cuthbert's society rugby club co-hosted a panel discussion titled "Is there a relationship between Lad Culture and Sexual violence?" The Panel consisted of Nicole Westmarland, Professor of Criminology at Durham University and co-Director of the Durham Centre for Research into Violence and Abuse, Tom Newman and Hannah Lowther, representatives from Team Durham (Durham university sport), Quentin Sloper, head of sport, music and drama for Experience Durham, Kathryn Royal, a rape crisis volunteer, and to represent the student body, Serge Chapman president of St Cuthbert's Society Junior Common Room.

Sam Cuthbert introduced the event saying it was the "Inaugural" joint event between his rugby club and DUFemSoc. In his introduction he mentioned how our two societies had come into contact before, saying this was "In the past".

The discussion started with panellists and audience members sharing their definitions of Lad Culture and sexual violence. Serge Chapman defined Lad Culture as,

"The masculine ideal of being part of a group and being socially accepted."

Audience members brought to attention the "pack mentality" of Lad Culture. Many highlighted the prevalence of sexist and homophobic 'banter' in Lad Culture . The level of harm this 'banter' causes was debated thoroughly.

One audience member brought up the point that men wanting to rack up as many sexual conquests as possible to impress their friends, could lead to sexual violence.

Nicole Westmarland mentioned that since 2003 consent is defined not just by saying yes or no, but by the ability to give consent, for example having sex with someone who is too drunk to give consent counts as rape.

Westmarland mentioned how even if one thing doesn't offend one person, it might effect another in a serious way. And this can depend on each individuals personal experiences of sexual violence.

Audience members recounted their experiences of being groped, cat called and insulted. And their complaints being dismissed by those that never have to experience what is so everyday for many female students.

It was discussed whether verbal and online abuse comes under the umbrella term of sexual violence. Kathryn Royal said it did, as in some cases it can be just as harmful as some physical assault. Some audience members argued that how we talk influences how we think and how we act. While others said that drawing comparisons between words and sexual violence can be dangerous. One audience member brought up that studies have shown that convicted rapists often get their beliefs reinforced by this banter.

The point was made that even if the majority of the group think that all they're saying is fun and games, there might be just one individual who takes the joke too seriously. It was also said that 'banter' can easily slip into language that blames the victims of sexual assault for what has happened to them.

A male audience member called 'Lad banter' tedious and encouraged society to respond to it with a blank face. Chapman made the point that you can be banterous without touching on topics that could easily offend.

There was some drama, when Tom Newman, representative of college sport at Durham University made a comparison between girls rating guys and girls receiving verbal abuse. Some members of the audience shouted out their disagreement.

During the course of the evening I found it so powerful to hear many women sharing their experience of being hurt by Lad Culture, in front of many who have actively participated with it. It seemed to me that many audience members were using this opportunity to directly speak to the 'Lads' in the room.

A victim of sexual violence in the audience said "If any of you met me in the street, in a pub, in a bar, you might make a joke to your friends, you have no idea (that I'm a victim of sexual assault). There is no middle ground, making jokes about sexual violence isn't acceptable. "

I was unsure on my opinions at the beginning of the evening. I knew that Lad Culture wasn't harmless, but I wasn't sure it directly caused sexual violence. By the end of the evening it was clear to me that Lad Culture causes more harm than it is fun. The group mentality and risqué jokes can lead to rapists feeling more confident, victims being re-traumatized, discouraging people from reporting sexual crimes, and society taking sexual violence less seriously.

I hope more events like this can happen. This event got people involved in feminism that don't think about it everyday, it got people talking about stuff they might have never considered before, and it made people think about the impact their own behavior has on those around them.