For too long has sexual harassment and violence plagued the University institutions in the UK. For too long have these everyday sexism issues gone on. For too long have Universities failed to do anything constructive and effective about the issues that they are very much aware of. There is now such a dire need to tackle them head-on that it has fallen to students themselves to try and stop this phenomenon of 'rape culture'.
Then came a report by the National Union of Students (NUS) which showed:
- 37% of female and 12% of male respondents had experienced unwanted groping or inappropriate touching.
- 36% of women and 16% of men had experienced unwanted sexual comments about their body.
- Two-thirds said they had seen unwanted sexual comments directed at other students, and just under a third reported gender-based verbal harassment.
Clearly, these are issues experienced all genders, even more so to women, and that something had to be done. NUS have teamed up with a fellow student organisation Sexpression:UK to launch a UK-wide educational programme to educate students about the concept of sexual consent.
Pippa James, Externals Co-ordinator for Sexpression:UK explains. 'Many ideas of relationships and acceptable behaviour comes from popular culture, with no comprehensive sex and relationship education in schools to combat this young people are making decisions which they may feel unprepared for. By providing the background information about consent we hope to provide the tools for them to use.'
Together, they aim to facilitate positive, informed and inclusive conversations and activities about consent in universities and colleges across the UK. What started in the University of London has now evolved to include 20 students' unions working with ambassadors to deliver specially designed workshops to the students of their Higher and Further Education institution. There is plenty of evidence to support education around consent, to judge whether it is present in your/others' actions and when it is still required. Such education will have a beneficial impact on later choices in behaviour that people will exhibit. Sexpression:UK is experienced in delivering peer-led education and the tested pilot in Sussex University was very successful.
Lyndsay Burtonshaw, Sussex University Activities Officer explains more; "the I Heart Consent campaign has been met with unbelievable support. I am delighted that such fundamental issues are finally being discussed. It was launched to 350 society and sports committee members participating in small group workshops in September, followed by a photo campaign during the Fresher's Fair where students wrote down why they wanted consent education, and why they are feminists. The campaign has been met with an incredibly positive reception, with hundreds of 'consent is asking every time' badges being worn by bar staff, activities staff, as well as students."
As students, we need to take more action against harm coming to our friends and colleagues in standing up for their human rights. It's extremely important that students have a firm grasp of the concept that consent for an act, sexual or not, cannot be given when a person is not conscious or able to express it freely. Rape has become a 'joke' that needs to stop. A rape survivor could be in the vicinity when someone publicly or privately says what they think is a harmless joke, not realising the internal harm being caused to that person. Trivialising rape or sexual assault only promotes the acts as something that can be got away with and we need to stigmatise unwanted sexual advances as something unforgivable and flat out wrong.
Creator of the campaign, and NUS Women's officer Susuana Antubam explains, "The I Heart Consent campaign aims to empower student communities to facilitate positive discussions about consent and tackle harmful misconceptions that contribute to rape culture on campus. We've been really excited to see so many students' unions interested in taking part in the campaign and recognising that this is an important issue that we need to start tackling now."
We as students are products of a school education that did not provide comprehensive sex and relationships education as a common core entitlement of the syllabus for all schools. Consent and sexual harassment have not been properly discussed and explained to enough students. With University comes a lot of fun activity, with sex playing a big part of that for many. Being negative about that fact is in no way the aim of the campaign. It is purely about getting people to understand consent in sexual and non-sexual acts and to respect others' wishes, space, decisions and rights.
Other campaigns such as The Everyday Sexism Project, Rape Crisis and the White Ribbon Campaign have made it clear that action is critical. It may sound a waste of time to many, patronising or trivial; but the ubiquitous nature of sexual harassment in the UK student population has forced this to be taken seriously by us all. Of course, not all students are rapists or violent, but the fact of the matter is that too many certainly are. A drastic approach is needed to get around preaching to the converted and to talk directly to those who may not realise the full effect of their actions, or 'banter'. Alcohol and pack mentality (for men and women) has a big part to play: that is why a widespread inclusive approach is needed.
There is legitimate concern that asking for consent for everything would forever kill the mood in the bedroom. 'Can I take your bra off now?' 'Is it ok to touch your knee now?' 'Can I kiss you on the cheek please?' Although you may want to ask this, and in certainly situations it is warranted, there are many more times where consent can be given but not have this laborious step. Giving the option to say no at any time, giving non-verbal cues for 'yes I like this', or asking someone to do something are all part of the concept of a willingly given 'yes' to consent.
Certain facts need to be made common knowledge, which sadly isn't the current situation:
- 2/3 of sexual assault is committed by someone known to the victim
- There is no fault attributed to a victim of sexual assault. Alcohol, what they were wearing or where they were are NOT valid reasons for them to be subjected to unwanted behaviour forced upon them unwillingly
- Rape is not committed because it cannot be helped or suppressed - most are premeditated and for a feeling of power rather than sexual pleasure
- Any gender, sexual orientation or age can be a victim
- Some people who have been raped prefer to be called 'rape survivors'
- Victims in rape situations are often legitimately afraid of being killed or seriously injured and so co-operate with the rapist to save their lives
- Rapists use many manipulative techniques to intimidate and coerce their victims
- Victims in a rape situations often become physically paralysed with terror or shock and are unable to move or fight
- Non-consensual intercourse doesn't always leave visible signs on the body or the genitals
- Only 0.01% of rape accusations are found to be false
- Sex workers have the same rights as anyone else and it is possible for them to be raped too
- Not all victims will report it right away, and that is their decision