Consent: No Laughing Matter

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It was horrifying and mortifying to see an article, only a few days ago, reporting that on average 2 cases of rape occur in Southampton every week. Two may not seem like a significant number, but the aftermath of one rape is significant enough. Whilst the article was not specifically regarding students, we all want to feel safe in the place that we are spending our most formative years.

Trigger warning: mentions of sexual assault and rape.

Whilst perusing through old Wessex Scene articles, I found one entitled “No Means No”, which included posters brandishing the caption “she was gagging for it“, and the blindingly obvious subtitle “gagging to be raped?” Now, many would argue that this is a ridiculous statement to make, because the answer appears so evident. Just the word “gagging” insights a sexual undertone, which when written in the context of rape, can make anyone feel sick.

The issue of consent has made itself widely known throughout the past year, with the scandalous headline of George Lawlor, a Warwick university student who refused to take classes on consent, and who brandished a “this is not what a rapist looks like” sign, to justify his decision.Whilst I can understand that he does not want to be viewed as a rapist, a rapist does not look one certain way. Might he have said the same about the Durham student Louis Richardson, who was recently put on trial for rape? Would he now say Richardson “looked” like a rapist?

It’s worrying that the issue of consent is still prevalent today. Many seem a little unclear of what actually constitutes sexual harassment, which implies that the lines of consent are constantly being blurred. For example, in a BBC Three documentary, Is this rape?: Sex on trial’, 24 young adults were shown a reconstruction of an alleged sexual assault. Initially, the majority of the group sided with the victim. But as the reconstruction unfolds, opinions and attitudes started to change toward both people involved in the encounter, as many of the statements given conflicted with the evidence the police had subsequently found. In the end, the accused was charged with sexual assault, and put on a sex offenders register for the remainder of his life. The host of the show simply asked the group, ‘you be the judge’. This documentary shows how the lines between what is consensual and what is not can be blurry, posing difficult questions such as, was this really rape? What if she did consent, without communicating it verbally?

With reports of sexual assault in Southampton increasing by 70% from 2014 to 2015, you begin to wonder how many of these statistics are concerned with the issue of consent, and if you are actually safe on the streets you call home. And it is not just women that are at risk, it’s men too.

However, university is a place where the issue of consent and rape is masked as ‘lad culture’. Jokes are used to poke fun at rape to the point where it doesn’t seem to be taken seriously – which is honestly frightening.  We brush off the jokes, and gross acts of affection we see because, as far as we know, it is consensual and we don’t give it another thought. Most of us have probably seen or experienced sexual harassment, even if we didn’t realise it at the time.

This danger didn’t occur to me during my first term of university. I felt safe walking back to halls late at night on my own, if I had lost my friends, or they had decided to leave early. It just didn’t click that anyone would see me as a potential target.

It was only when a friend of mine said to me that I shouldn’t have ever walked home by myself on one particular night. It was St. Patrick’s day. I left the club early, and called the friend whose birthday it was, asking if they were still out. When he said that the group had already called it a night, I decided to make my own way home. It wasn’t far and I wasn’t totally inebriated, so I thought it wasn’t a big deal. But then he started to raise his voice in concern, and eventually I promised I’d get a taxi back to halls. This is when it occurred to me that, even though I felt perfectly fine walking home, my friends feared for my safety.

I’ve also seen my share of people being taken advantage of, on the dance floor of Jesters, and even in my own flat. Would I have thought that one of my friends would have taken advantage of a girl? No, of course not. But whilst intoxicated, some don’t see anything wrong with their actions (sometimes two friends running after someone yelling “don’t let her go in there!” aren’t ringing sirens enough). If these actions had been followed through, the consequences could have changed their lives. It’s not only the physical effects that can haunt you, but also the mental and emotional torment. It can creep up on you, even when you’re sitting in your lecture theatre doing work, leading you to question every judgement you have ever made. And it’s painful to deal with.

It is worrying that this issue of consent, a product of some form of ‘lad culture’, is still presenting itself in students’ lives. The statistics of sexual assaults in Southampton alone reveal that consent should be dealt with, even if we have to use consent classes. It may seem ridiculous, but with a report of 116 cases of sexual assault in the Portswood area alone, it cannot be claimed that consent is not an issue amongst students, or that it is being taken seriously enough.


If you need help concerning any issues of sexual harassment, assault or violence, please use the resources below:

Nightline- 02380 592085

Rape Crisis- http://rapecrisis.org.uk

Samaritans- http://www.samaritans.org

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History student and new Features Editor for 2016/17. Consumer of chocolate, of tea and vodka, voyeur of Scandinavian crime dramas , and writer...or attempting to anyway.

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