Are Compulsory Sexual Consent Seminars Necessary in University?

It was reported last week that those attending half of the colleges at Cambridge University would have to attend compulsory sexual consent classes in an effort to combat the prevalence of sexual violence on their campus; a survey of 2,100 students at Cambridge found almost half of students had been “groped, pinched or grabbed” during their time at university and even worse still, over 100 had experienced “attempted serious sexual assault”.

While the programme will be given to freshers it does beg the question why is it needed at all? Understandably something needs to be done to combat the horrific treatment of young women in the UK especially in situations and events which encompass lad culture as well as the extreme drinking culture among young people and students.

[Conversation] should concern how we treat women in this society where groping is ‘all in good fun’…

The real worry behind this strategy, also being adopted by NUS, is that it doesn’t tackle the problem at its roots. Anything which advocates sexual consent should be supported but would it not be better to try and teach this important life lesson earlier? If sex education was more in-depth and went beyond bare biological function maybe some of these attitudes towards sex would never arise. If sex education covered everything from sexuality to consent rather than just the ins and outs of protection perhaps those entering into the big ‘adult’ world of sex wouldn’t be so damned confused about what is culturally acceptable and tolerable. Instead of instilling fear into young girls with videos of live births, would that time be better spent teaching everyone about consent when it comes to sex?

Of course, there are other factors to be concerned about in the conversation of sexual consent such as the role of the media and how it perceives victims of sexual assault. Mainstream media only highlights a small portion of rape cases and it never follows up on these. So often news stories in local newspapers report on incidents with copy pertaining to an “unnamed victim raped by man at 3am,” accompanied by a brief description of the attacker and again cases are not followed up, with pressure to find the rapist only ever applied in the event of a high profile case.

As a society, we don’t take rape seriously and ignorance on a societal level filters down to the secondary school education system. Girls don’t fully understand the severity of rape as evidenced by the infamous albeit popular joke “It’s not rape if you shout surprise first.” Even writers for the London School of Economics student newspaper, The Beaver, published the joke in 2011, although their peers took enough umbrage that the offending party were forced into hiding.

[Public]  pressure to find the rapist [is] only ever applied in the event of a high profile case.

Cambridge’s response to this threat to their student body is perfectly understandable under the circumstances because no-one else has been willing to actively try and change the system. It shouldn’t just be a conversation about just consent though. The dialogue should concern how we treat women in this society where groping is ‘all in good fun’ and in which women are still frequently expected to dress and act a certain way. It is the same society that pushes women to actively try and take up less space – be smaller, be fragile.

Cambridge’s sexual consent classes are a step in the right direction but a lack of legal action shows that the government can’t see that this is something it needs to combat through more detailed sex education. Let’s hope that the sexual consent classes help.

Image rights; Paul Townsend