Trigger Warning: rape, sexual assault.
The young men in the media who refuse to attend consent workshops have a terrifying misunderstanding of rape. In one picture, a 19 year-old, white, male student holds a sign which states “this is not what a rapist looks like” – in actual fact, the US Department of Justice estimate that around 75% of rapists in the US are white men. But then again, we know that a rapist can come in any shape or size – any gender, age, ethnicity, a close friend or a complete stranger, etc. Ironically, this is something this student would have known had he attended a workshop.
Put simply, consent workshops are important because a vast majority of students are confused as to what exactly consent is, and many refuse to believe how common sexual assault really is. Consent, something which should be a very simple concept, has been sidelined as unimportant and plagued with misconceptions in the media. Sex education in schools focuses on how to avoid STIs and pregnancy, but not how to have happy and healthy relationships. Consent is seen as a ‘Blurred Line’.
“A person consents if they agree by choice, and they have the freedom and capacity to make that choice” – so a person saying ‘yes’ because they have been threatened or guilt-tripped into something is not giving consent. Consent is active and enthusiastic participation, and it not simply the absence of a ‘no’. This is what we teach in our workshops at Leeds Beckett Students’ Union. We explain the damaging effect of rape jokes on a society that already treats rape as normal. We hear ‘rape’ and think of a violent attack, committed by a hooded stranger in a dark alleyway, when really 90 per cent of rapes are committed by someone we know and trust – in most cases, this person is a friend or partner. We fail to acknowledge these instances as ‘real rape’ because of our warped conception of what rape is – and often we fail to recognise what has happened to us in the comfort of a friend’s bedroom.
Our consent workshops are available to anyone who would like one, on an optional basis. We’ve given them to SU staff, residential officers, society committees, students in general, and even had one taped by the BBC. It is our hope that the majority of students will have attended one in the next academic year. The workshops aim to teach once and for all what consent is. We come from the angle that we are living in a rape culture that trivialises rape, and we believe that we can change this culture by changing people’s attitudes and knowledge about consent and making people understand what consent really is. We do not believe that people who contribute to this culture, for example, by telling rape jokes, are bad people – they are simply caught up in the culture that we all live in. It is only by educating people that we can challenge rape culture and end this problem once and for all.
Below are some examples of positive attitude and knowledge changes in people who have attended a workshop at Leeds Beckett compared to people who haven’t.
The correct answer to the above question is 90% – of people who have attended a workshop, 69% answered this question correctly. The remaining 31% answered ‘78%’, which, although incorrect, is still an estimation that it is a high percentage of rapes that are committed in this way.
As for people who have not attended a workshop, only 25% answered this question correctly.
The correct answer to the above question is obviously Yes. 95% of people who haveattended a workshop answered this correctly, compared to 82% of those who have not attended a workshop. Although this number is certainly not low, it’s still definitely not high enough in my opinion. This is one of the common misconceptions that leads to rape, and is one instance where it is common for both the perpetrator and the person it happened to, to not to realise what exactly it was that happened. If someone is a little tipsy, but in control, this does not mean incapacitated. But, in cases where someone is incapacitated; no, they cannot consent to sex.
Of people who have attended a consent workshop, 96% feel confident that they would know where to go for help and support, and the remaining 4% are “unsure” with no people stating that they do not know where to go for support. Unfortunately, of people who have not attended, 36% stated that they are not confident in knowing where to seek help and support.
This result indicates that as well as improving our knowledge and attitudes towards consent, Consent Workshops also improve our knowledge of where we would go should we ever need support if something like this ever happened to us.