Sexpression is a national charity who advocate for the implementation of mandatory sexual consent training by universities. Last month, their Nottingham branch teamed up with UoN’s Feminist Society and others to organise a rally through campus. The purpose of this rally was to support their open letter to the university, demanding that sexual consent training be mandatory for all students at the University of Nottingham. They believe that this training is “pivotal in ensuring the safety and well-being of all students”.
On the day of the rally, the UoN Instagram page announced that they would be sending a micro-course on consent to all first-year students. From speaking to some first-year students, I have discovered that the course was sent out in a text message and was so unclear of its content that many were led to believe it was a scam message. The text was vague and described the link attached as a guide on ‘building better relationships’ in order to ‘keep yourself, your friends and your community safe’. There was no mention of sexual consent, nor was there acknowledgement of the importance of this training, in light of recent campaigning. As a result, it is safe to assume that very few first-years will have clicked on the link, let alone engaged with its content.
This is not how you teach young people to respect others’ boundaries and be considerate when engaging in sexual activity
Ultimately, the presentation represents a minimum effort from the university to provide sexual consent training, which is in no way mandatory to complete. The promotion of the course is lacking too, with many students mistaking it for spam. If I were to praise the initiative at all, it would be for the form in which the content is presented. The presentation consists of two videos from students, who provide an informal brief discussion of why sexual consent is important and how to be aware of it in everyday life. The presentation also encourages students to answer a couple of multiple-choice questions about what they should do in certain scenarios. From the delivery of this presentation, I assume it was created by students and can appreciate that this content is far better than the sexual consent training course already offered on the University of Nottingham website.
Yes, in fact there is one. Not that you would ever know because, in my two and a half years at the university, I have never come across any kind of promotion for it. For those of you wanting to check it out, it is a link embedded in the ‘HealthyU’ section of the website. I am happy to save you the time though. As someone who cares a great deal about educating young people on sexual consent, I endured in completing the training presentation out of curiosity. It is safe to say that, were I looking for an engaging resource to educate myself more on the topic of sexual consent, I would have given this one a miss. The course felt as though I was studying and would be examined at the end. It was laid out like a formal lesson with learning objectives; an obscene amount of text; and quizzes embedded throughout. This is not how you teach young people to respect others’ boundaries and to be considerate when engaging in sexual activity.
Sexual consent training needs to be engaging and needs to take place in an open forum where discussions can take place
The goal of sexual consent training is not to provide acronyms and bullet-point lists so that one can memorise when it definitely is and is not okay to have sex with someone, because the negotiation of consent is complex and will never be the same from case to case. Sexual consent training needs to be engaging and needs to take place in an open forum where discussions can take place. Most importantly, it needs to acknowledge and spend time discussing the hegemonic gender roles and gendered power dynamics which dictate much of our communication, both in and outside of the bedroom. Attempting to simplify the concept of sexual consent with the tea analogy or scare students with dark and dramatic images and footage is ineffective and distances the message from our everyday lives, where it is most prevalent.
In order to encourage more progressive sexual consent training, I would like to draw your attention towards UK universities whose training courses are mandatory. These include, University of Cambridge; University of Oxford; University of East Anglia; Nottingham Trent University; University of Warwick; and Durham. Furthermore, from speaking to a student at the University of Oxford, they have said that their sexual consent training is not only mandatory, but also takes place in-person and encourages discussion.
In 2020, The Tab Nottingham reported a 150% increase in sexual assault and harassment cases in Nottingham
In-person workshops about sexual consent are do-able, and the need for them is only increasing. In 2020 The Tab Nottingham reported a 150% increase in sexual assault and harassment cases in Nottingham in the past decade. Most of these were reported by students and I can only imagine this statistic to have grown, since most women I know have experienced sexual assault or rape in their time at university. And unfortunately, a 4-minute Snapchat story-style presentation on consent isn’t quite going to cut it. What the university needs to do is work with students and representatives from Sexpression to conduct beneficial and in-depth workshops and make them mandatory for all students. This, at the very least, would be a start.
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