THE BLOG
16/10/2015 07:45 BST | Updated 15/10/2016 06:12 BST

We Need Consent Taught at Universities

Teaching consent at Universities is not a cure-all: it is a start. We must take young people and sexual assault seriously, and the NUS and Students' Unions are taking necessary steps to do so. For those berating the need for further action, those disputing whether this is enough: there is no better place to start fighting rape culture and concepts of patriarchal masculinity, than in a classroom.

32% of universities in the UK have been found to offer sexual consent workshops, but the need is evident across the board. Last month, a survey by the Association of American Universities concluded that one in four women at colleges surveyed had experienced unwanted sexual contact, and in 2014 a study by the NUS of 2000 UK-based students found that more than a third of women students said that they had experienced unwelcome sexual advances.

The espousing of the opinion that consent workshops are unnecessary is no longer surprising to survivors and students, because the complacency of 'Not All Men' runs so deep in contemporary society that it causes nothing but side-eye, all the while perpetuating the culture which damages the credibility of survivors' stories. We have grown up in a society which obfuscates the concept of consent, and democratically elected Students' Unions are part of a growing consciousness of the need to correct this, by providing awareness campaigns alongside clear information in consent workshops.

Despite protests of 'Not All Men' encroaching on any discourse of sexual consent education, the teaching of consent is not to patronise students, but has to do with a culture which perpetuates confused ideas about sexual consent: we all inhabit a rape culture, the fictitious grouping of 'All Men' included. Society conditions a victim-blaming culture wherein violence is normalised, a culture which is rife even amongst the Russell Group haughtily held up by one Tab writer. Universities specifically have a lot to answer for: despite being supposed bastions of higher education, they are not excluded from the violence which permeates our culture, to suggest otherwise is both classist and erases the experience of student survivors.

Recent film 'It Happened Here' documented the legal battles undertaken by American student survivors under Title IX, because according to the ACLU, failure to provide alternative accommodation to a someone following an assault is actively depriving student survivors of the equal conditions guaranteed by US federal law. In this documentary, one survivor compared the humiliating process of legal proceedings to being raped again; the lengthy procedures in both America and the UK are likely to feed into the cannot-be-overestimated problem of underreporting. Whilst in the US, students are able to approach resident advisors, students in the UK do not have this immediate counselling service, they must approach the police: a difficult decision, not aided by a culture of authorities questioning validity of experiences of assault, exemplified in the 'serious rape' comments made by Kenneth Clarke in 2011. Though his comments have since been semi-apologised for, the vox populi, aided by a rape-apologist print media, consistently questions and belittles narratives of sexual assault, particularly amongst young people, leaving survivors often unsure of whether or not to seek justice through the courts.

Teaching consent at Universities is not a cure-all: it is a start. We must take young people and sexual assault seriously, and the NUS and Students' Unions are taking necessary steps to do so. For those berating the need for further action, those disputing whether this is enough: there is no better place to start fighting rape culture and concepts of patriarchal masculinity, than in a classroom. In failing to teach consent at University and other levels of state education, we not only fail students the right to education; we fail survivors: in a rape culture, the only people who can prevent rape, are rapists.