Content warning: discussion of sexual assault
It should come as no surprise to anyone at this point that we have a large societal problem with sexual violence and misogyny. From the revelations of MeToo back in 2017 (the effects of which are still being felt in most industries even five years later) to the more recent conversations surrounding spiking and violence against women on nights out, this problem feels constant and doesn’t feel like it’s improved much over the last ten years.
Personally, it feels we’ve been at an impasse for a while now, and while that’s not to say that nothing’s changed over the last couple of years (we’ve certainly got a lot more awareness for one) it still feels like we’re slugging through and endless sea of misogyny and sexual violence. The regularity and normality of these incidents hasn’t decreased, that’s for certain.
Only 6% of students ‘strongly agreed’ that prior education had prepared them for sexual relationships in higher education
I’ve experienced misogyny and sexual violence on all ends of the spectrum, from a casual sexist joke to a long-term abusive relationship and – like I have been sexually assaulted whilst at university. If I ever catch myself feeling pensive, I reflect on these scenarios and wonder why they happened. Why did someone think they could touch me there or speak to me in that manner, or why did they think it was acceptable to have sex with me when I was unable and unwilling to give my consent?
Occasionally I come to the conclusion that some of them didn’t know any better, that they weren’t deliberately trying to subjugate or hurt me but instead weren’t aware that those were the consequences their actions were having. Does that excuse these people’s actions in any way? No, not in the slightest – but it does provide a very solid argument for why we should be teaching consent.
85% of men surveyed didn’t believe that there is an overall sexist culture at our university
This personal theory is not unfounded, with only feeling ‘very confident’ about ‘what constitutes sexual consent’, which decreases to 30% being ‘very confident’ about how to navigate sexual consent after introducing alcohol.
To me, these statistics make sense. They reflect the overwhelmingly sparse sex education we received as children or young teenagers – none of which included anything about consent. Unless, of course, you count the YouTube video we watched when we were 16 in my school – ironically two years after the first time I was raped and six years after I was first sexually assaulted.
‘strongly agreed’ that prior education had prepared them for sexual relationships in higher education. There’s a clear lack of education across the board, and if we are not taught the intricacies of consent then how can we expect people to understand and enact them?
This is a trend seen just as obviously at our own university. into sexual assault, misogyny and harassment at UoN found that 85% of men surveyed didn’t believe that there is an overall sexist culture at our university – even though 63% also reported that they have known of someone to make jokes involving the sexual abuse of women and that 55% felt disconcerted with the way other men spoke about women. 85% of men clearly do not understand what constitutes living in an overall sexist culture.
Student halls were the second most prevalent location for instances of sexual harassment and violence to occur
So at this point, I may have convinced you as to why we need to be teaching consent but perhaps I haven’t sold you on why it’s our universities’ responsibility to do so.
If it wasn’t enough that a large part of their student cohort are victims of this issue (and clearly that means that some of them are also the perpetrators) then I would argue that our university must take some responsibility for this problem given how many of these events happen on their premises. Impact’s investigation found that after off campus incidents, student halls were the second most prevalent location for instances of sexual harassment and violence to occur and that our sport facilities are the location where most women feel unsafe on campus.
Why would our university not want to steer their young cohort in the right direction?
In addition to this, I would argue that our university owes its students a duty of care. Students as young as 18 flock to Nottingham in their thousands each September, and for some this is the first time they will be sexually active and for most this is the beginning of them being regularly sexually active. We’ve covered that a lack of education regarding sex and consent is a huge problem, so why would our university not want to steer their young cohort in the right direction?
Similarly, our university – like any other – is responsible for two things at its core: our education and our welfare. I would argue teaching consent falls squarely into both categories. In an ideal world, I would have consent taught much earlier than at higher education, but at this point in time that reality seems unlikely, so I’m asking the University of Nottingham to pick up the slack.
Without the proper education, this place we find ourselves in seems inevitable and this place is vastly unsafe and unpleasant
The last point to this request, and undoubtedly the most controversial, are that these courses should be mandatory. To put it plainly, the way we live currently can’t continue. Sexual violence is constant, almost everyone I know has been a victim of it (regardless of gender) and there’s a clear gap in our collective knowledge that needs to be filled. Without the proper education, this place we find ourselves in seems inevitable and this place is vastly unsafe and unpleasant for so many. If something can be done to combat, then it must be done. It’s as simple as that.
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