Figures from the National Union of Students (NUS) show that one in seven women will experience a serious sexual assault during their degree. The figure for transgender students is much higher, with 1 in 4 saying they had experienced sexual abuse. However, the concept of consent classes has riled critics over the last few years. Classes, usually aimed at first year students as part of their induction to university, explaining the necessity of an enthusiastic ëyesí and cautioning students about drunkenness, have been dubbed condescending and unneeded.
Two years ago the national press reported that freshers at the University of York staged a walkout in protest of a consent class. Male students said the classes were ‘patronising’ and implied a belief that all men were potential rapists. If youíre smart enough to get into university, some of the students argued, you should be smart enough to know what consent is. The fact sexual assault isnít limited to a particular educational level aside, these comments revealed a worrying attitude to consent.
The conversation is thankfully starting to shift, and ever more so in the wake of allegations about the director Harvey Weinsteinís history of sexual assault.
Vanessa Grigoriadis, a journalist and writer, looked at US campuses for her book Blurred Lines: Rethinking Sex, Power, and Consent on Campus. Speaking to The Slate, she said it was misleading to imply that all sexual assault is “extremely violent”, committed by “a very small group of serial predators” totally devoid of compassion or other good actions. Perpetrators are nearly always someone their victim knows, or is even friends with, rather than strangers in dark alleys. However, campaigns like ‘a good night out’ and ‘Never ok’ at UEA have shown thereís equally an issue with sexual assault on night outs.
Grigoriadis argues students arrive at university without a comprehensive sex education and usually with little of their own experience. As some cases in the mainstream media currently show, it is sadly possible for men to not know when they have committed an assault or not received someoneís full consent.
Whilst some universities do not host any classes whatsover, the University of Oxford has started holding classes in the first few weeks of term that, though not compulsory, it is expected all students will attend.
This should be welcomed.