Why we need consent workshops

By Gina Cuomo

Many universities up and down the country have for the first time this year run sexual consent workshops. This has taken place to the dismay of some, such as the two students at Warwick University who published their thoughts on the matter earlier this week.

There is quite a good chance you have read about their opinions on a Facebook invite to such a talk. But consent talks like the ones they were invited educate the student population about a vastly important topic.

Anyone who doesn’t realise how big an issue sexual violence is within universities obviously cannot appreciate the magnitude of the statistics. According to a 2010 NUS survey, 68% of female students will experience some kind of verbal or non-verbal harassment during their time at university, with 1 in 7 becoming a victim of a serious physical or sexual assault. This is to say nothing of the male and gender non-binary individuals who are targets of such incidences, and people who have been victims during childhood or adolescence who are affected by attitudes and conversations surrounding consent and sexual violence.

The consent workshops are a conscious effort by student unions and campaigns at various institutions to disrupt rape culture and support those affected by these issues. No matter how well informed you are on consent, there are always new things to learn and new perspectives to appreciate. The talks we gave to various colleges in Durham obviously focused on what consent was, but also on how to support friends through the aftermath of incidences of sexual violence and what options there are for victims.

These talks are so important in helping students appreciate what sexual violence looks like in the real world. These talks discuss the myths surrounding these issues that just help to perpetuate the false perception of harassment. Sexual violence is not about “a stranger in a dark alley” – you are 5 times more likely to be a victim of sexual violence at the hands of your partner than a stranger. 80 – 90% of targets of serious incidences know their attackers. There’s no such thing as not looking like a rapist, because they could look like you or me or any other person you pass in the street, and attitudes such as this just further the view that sexual violence doesn’t affect us, because after all those victims aren’t faceless; targets are your flatmates, the person you sit next to in lectures, your friends.

The main issue people seem to have about discussions around consent is that it is supposedly labelling all men as rapists, and creating a culture in which men are scared of being falsely accused of rape. In actual fact, over the course of a man’s life there is more chance of them becoming a victim of rape, than being falsely accused. These consent talks aren’t about brandishing men as perpetrators, it’s about informing everyone and teaching them how to promote a culture that is supportive of victims. The workshops aren’t to preach about what consent is – they are about teaching people what consent looks like. The talks delve into how we can help our peers deal with this issue that affects a far larger proportion of society than we wish to admit, and try to help open the eyes of our student body to the gap between our perception of rape culture and the harsh reality.

Thank you to those Durham colleges that have invited It Happens Here to speak and run workshops with them so far this term. This has included: Freshers Reps at Van Mildert, St Aidan’s, and St Hild and St Bede; the MCR of St John’s; and the freshers students at Van Mildert, St. Aidan’s and Collingwood colleges.


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