Edward Wilson explains the work of Consent, at Manchester Metropolitan

Consent Blog Post

There is a huge amount of rape and sexual assault on college campuses.  It is difficult to exactly measure this as rape remains the most under reported of crimes. The best way to determine the actual incidence is to survey people anonymously after their course has finished, and ask them whether they experienced sexual violence during their studies. The results are sobering; one in three women experience sexual assault or rape while at university, but only 3% choose to report it to the police,[1] and 4% to their institution.[2]

An NUS survey looked into the incidence of “violent sexual or physical assault” and found that one in seven women experience this at university. [3] The majority of the perpetrators are other students[4] and survivors are frequently not believed by their peers nor supported by the institutions around them.[5] In a campus environment, students who are victimized by other students face unique challenges, such as close proximity to perpetrators and difficulty maintaining anonymity. This is an epidemic that is happening around us, unseen and unreported.

We are working with MMU to help to reduce the incidence of rape, and we are doing it through consent workshops. These one hour sessions are run by trained students to their peers, and go over the legal definitions of rape, as well as the culture surrounding it. We examine commonly held beliefs about rape and look at concrete examples from students’ lives. Our volunteers are trained by both Consent Charity and Rape Crisis UK across 2 days, and we now have over 20 trained volunteers at MMU.

With such a large and pernicious problem it can seem naive to think that so simple a thing as consent workshops can have a meaningful impact on the rate of sexual violence. But that is to ignore a large piece of the puzzle; the lack of knowledge amongst young people about consent. It is not taught on the national curriculum, and few schools around the country do any work on this topic[6]. The result is young people are having more and more sex every year, but are unequipped to communicate with each other. The largest piece of research done on this area was by London Metropolitan University. They showed videos to high school students in which actors described being raped, while asleep at a party or after drinking, and then asked the students what, if any, crime had been committed. The results were that less than half of students had a working knowledge of consent and could identify what constituted rape. The report’s authors noted:

“The Sexual Offences Act 2003 places responsibility on both parties to be sure that consent is ‘freely given’…yet young people receive little useful help or guidance from either Sex and Relationships Education (SRE) or parents in how to negotiate sex, and want safe spaces to have these conversations. With no consistent and required content for SRE in England, young people’s access to accurate information and spaces to explore the complexities of their lives and decision-making are limited. ”

What we need now is help in organising more sessions. We have the volunteers ready to go, but are lacking the rooms and times to deliver these important workshops, and we cannot book rooms.   That is where MMU staff can help us. If you want to timetable sessions with your students for us, this would be a great help, and we can deliver workshops at any time that suits you. Not only are they good in themselves, they also help us to build the case that the university should be funding these at a higher level – with an eye on eventually rolling them out to the entire intake of new students every year.

If you think that your students would benefit, or would like to help out in any way, please get in contact with us at hello@consentcharity.com. The more sessions we can deliver the more we can start to have a real impact.

[1] http://www.telegraph.co.uk/women/womens-life/11343380/Sexually-assault-1-in-3-UK-female-students-victim-on-campus.html

[2] http://hiddenmarks.org.uk/2010/about/hidden-marks/

[3] http://www.endviolenceagainstwomen.org.uk/women-students-safe-equal

[4] http://hiddenmarks.org.uk/2010/about/hidden-marks/

[5] http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk/8515592.stm

[6] http://campaign4consent.co.uk/

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