The alcohol orientated nature of student life often results in people getting together under the fluorescent lights to the sound of Mr Brightside and perhaps regretting it in the morning, but nightclubs are also home to unwanted groping, grinding and un-attaching someone from your waist, which is far worse.
Going on a night out can feel primal at times, flooded with groups on the prowl, hunting down anyone they find attractive and making advances with there sometimes being little attention to whether these advances are reciprocated or wanted. It is usually under these circumstances that consent isn’t on the list of priorities and a night out with friends can turn into a nightmare that can never be forgotten.
Incorporating consent lessons into Freshers’ week, which is ultimately a week of trying not to get your stomach pumped, whilst having fun and meeting new people, has brought its own challenges. Including something so serious seemed to be taken negatively by some, and was considered as a chore that everyone simply needed to get through rather than give their undivided attention to. Especially after a heavy night and little sleep. Explaining why consent was necessary and that it was always needed gave the impression that wasn’t desired- that it was an insult to our intelligence. Cue eyes rolling and heads on the table with one main unsaid thought filling the room- ‘Of course you need consent, we already know this. Let us go so we can sleep, and stop wasting our time’. That was the general feeling where I was sitting anyway.
Following recent events like Emma Watson’s speech on sexual violence in universities and the Brock Turner case, consent has become an increasingly important subject to address. This isn’t to say that cases like these have only just come to light and previously never occurred- something which couldn’t be further from the truth. It is more a case of highlighting issues that have been brushed under the carpet and are accepted as part of our society. It all comes hand in hand with gender stereotyping and victim blaming, whether they be male or female. Issues of consent need to be brought to the forefront of everyone’s minds, especially throughout universities where 1 in 3 women and 1 in 8 men are sexually assaulted or abused within the UK (The Telegraph, 2015). This statistic is alarming to say the least and despite the bags under our eyes making it difficult to function, I think the mandatory nature is extremely important and fitting.
I’m not saying we’re all oblivious to the fact that consent is necessary and we know that under no circumstances can it be swatted away as harmless if it is not given. However, it’s surprising how easily this is forgotten when alcohol is involved or emotions are running high. There is no harm in a gentle reminder of the importance of consent, nor is time ever wasted by going to such lessons and it shouldn’t be taken as an insult to intelligence. We have a need to double check ourselves from time to time, making consent lessons crucial.
And to those that think consent lessons should be optional, ask yourself why. Why would you not want to spend a maximum of ten minutes receiving the reminder that consent is compulsory? An issue that impacts people’s lives in several different ways that can often never be corrected again is worth listening to.
Such lessons aren’t trying to target us and condemn us all as capable of sexual assault, they simply exist to educate us on issues surrounding our society. Aside from this, they offer the knowledge that if you did fall victim it is crucial that you know there is no shame or blame to be placed on yourself and that there is unlimited support. They liberate us from the stereotypes of men being exempt due to their supposed strength that prevents them from being human and emotional, and those of women being provocative in nature. No always mean no, not yes, not maybe, not if you convince me enough. No. It means exactly what it says on the tin, there’s no reading in between the lines that needs to be done and it’s baffling how a two letter word can be taken as anything else.
With this considered, the overall purpose that consent lessons set out to serve is something that should be focussed on and should be openly discussed, instead of burying our heads in the sand until it happens to someone we know, or, in fact, us. Furthermore, it establishes boundaries and leaves no room for excuses, not that there ever should or can be any. In saying this, the lessons given weren’t as powerful as they could have been. Amidst the drinking, ice breaker games and fairs this wasn’t exactly top priority. Which doesn’t take the importance of the issue away, but the message was lost somewhat by being presented amongst other talks. Additionally, explaining why consent is necessary wasn’t the interactive talk we needed. Putting the issue into context with a scenario that we could all easily come across and is familiar to us would hit home a lot more and get the message across, allowing us to empathise.
Ten minutes out of your life is a small price to pay, with consent lessons offering the reassurance that you will be supported, and the knowledge that no one is entitled to anyone’s body but their own. We have the free will to do what we want with it without judgement.
Photograph by Faye Chua