We’re in a time of crisis. Dramatic wording, but it’s true. An estimated 95,000 people in the year were victims of sexual assault, and 1 in 4 students endure unwanted sexual comments about their body. This includes 12 per cent of men, and 37 per cent of women. So whilst this is disproportionately affecting women, it also affects men.
The UN’s HeForShe campaign, featuring an eloquent Emma Watson, aims to highlight this point: Gender equality is not just a women’s issue. It is a student issue. Above all, it is an issue. And it isn’t getting better – in 2010 NUS found 1 in 7 women students has been the victim of sexual assault or violence whilst at university. And guess what? In 60% of these cases, the perpetrator was also a student.
An estimated 95,000 people in the year were victims of sexual assault, and 1 in 4 students endure unwanted sexual comments about their body.
In short, it’s time to wake up and smell the coffee about this. I’m not going to spend my time here playing the blame game. We can all make our inferences about whose fault it is that this culture has spread. Bottom line, it’s the abusers who need to stop abusing. Finding the source is helpful, but I’m more concerned with personal safety than the political solution, not that finding the political source and solution is a bad thing.
So how do we tackle it? Well, it’s no myth that rape is about power, not consent. However, I do believe that by educating a generation about consent through classes at University can reduce the number of harassment cases, and cases of “it almost got that bad”. If we can create a culture of people who know about and respect consent, we can also make life easier for the victims of serious sexual abuse.
For one, conviction rates will become less disgustingly low. Of rape victim cases, only 30% go to court, and only 10% gets a conviction. This is shocking, whichever way you want to look at it. And before the cry of “false accusations!”, only 2% of rape reports are false. 98% are true, and –still- only 10% are convicted. Which is the bigger problem?
But why will University-sponsored consent classes solve this? Because at the minute, there’s an idea that consent means “they didn’t say no”. This is flat out wrong. The prevalence of this idea is scary. There’s an idea that if you’re drunk, it’s your fault. False. If they’re drunk, it was a drunken mistake. False. Being drunk is not a reason to rape or a reason to be raped. These are basic ideas.
Of rape victim cases, only 30% go to court, and only 10% gets a conviction.
Recently a group of students, all men, developed an anti-date rape nail-varnish. Whilst a nice idea, it’s still placing the blame on the women, and telling them they need to protect themselves. We need to keep challenging this. Consent classes are important; not just because the students of now need the education, but because the students of now may well go on to have children.
Classes should primarily aim to undo the bad work already done by debunking these ideas and rebuilding the gaps. They should convey that consent isn’t just a legal construct but an inherently social one.
If we have a chance to start a change in society, away from victim blaming, rape culture and subtle misogyny, and on to self-awareness and respect for everyone and their rights to their body, we should take it. With Cambridge and Oxford bringing in compulsory consent classes, and Emma Watson’s recent call for everyone to see feminism as essential, we’re not fighting a losing battle anymore. The time is now.
Image courtesy of UN Women via Flickr