Emma vs. Consent Education

It would be a good idea to say from the start that, though I love writing with my usual acerbic, self-deprecating or just plain witty sense of humour, I’m going to put those aside just for now. I have something important to talk about, so bear with me. This would also be a good point to include a trigger warning for survivors of rape, sexual assault and the like. I’m not going to go over any intimate details but it’s worth putting out there. Also, I’m going to list some useful links at the bottom of this post for you to look at at your leisure. Thanks and here goes…

I write in response to an article which I have linked here. Please read this and feel free to form your own opinions. I write on behalf of no one but myself and have no intention to impose my view onto anyone else. I’m just here to lay out some facts.

Recently, I went and took part in an I Heart Consent training workshop in order to be a facilitator at consent education sessions on my campus. I Heart Consent is a campaign by the National Union of Students (NUS) which intends on giving college and university students the information that they need in order to fully understand consent and its intricacies. This campaign has now been rolled out around most of the UK and I was excited to say the least.

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Though this is not about me, consent is personally very important. I went along to the training, slightly dreading the fact that it was 3 hours long, and got a pleasant surprise. There were people of all genders, races, ages and backgrounds there. Everyone was friendly. Everyone was respectful. 3 hours have never gone by faster in my life and I enjoyed every second of it. It was informative, it was fun, I met some great people and I learnt a lot. I encourage anyone to either attend a session or follow through to the I Heart Consent web page where you can find resources to read through.

Now I move to the less pleasant part; the response. Naturally there was some backlash, and it would be ambitious to not expect any. However I have just a few things to say on the matter, mostly centring on the previously linked-to article.

“This is not what a rapist looks like”

I’m not going to be argumentative, but to assume that every rapist looks like a rapist is to say that every person who has ever been raped was foolish enough to not notice. If rapists looked a certain way, I’m sure that under most circumstances 99% of people would avoid them. You’re not a rapist? Great! Keep it up! Some day I’ll bake you a cake, who knows.

“Your crushing disappointment quickly melts away and is overcome by anger”

To be fair, I don’t get invited to too many house parties either so I understand the pain. Although, I must say, getting angry isn’t the way I deal with an invitation that I don’t really want. In the same way that when I was invited to “Day I get my runescape back” I didn’t immediately go off on one about how I don’t even play runescape, you shouldn’t immediately assume that you were invited to a consent workshop because someone thinks you don’t understand consent or are a rapist (which you’ve assured us you are not). Seriously, don’t take it personally. Everyone was invited.

“I don’t have to be taught to not be a rapist”

Anyone has the capacity to be a rapist in the same way that anyone has the capacity to be a thief. The only difference is that when we’re children we’re taught that taking something that isn’t yours is wrong, even if it was left unattended/it was not locked away/no one was looking. We, however, are not taught as children that sex with a person isn’t okay if they are drunk, high, passed out, asleep, an unwilling spouse or partner, physically incapable of saying “no”, being coerced, or many other things. Being a rapist is lumped together with being any run-of-the-mill criminal and then everyone immediately assumes “I can’t be a rapist because I’m not a criminal”. All we need is a little education, and I hate to have to break it to you, but we all need to be taught not to be a rapist much like we’re all taught not to be thieves. But don’t worry, it’s not just you and you’re not alone.

“Yes means yes, no means no. It’s really that simple”

  1. Coercion – a forced “yes” is still a “no”
  2. Fear – being too afraid to say “no” is a “no”
  3. Drunk/High – a “yes” whilst intoxicated is a “no”
  4. I could go on…

Basically, what I’m getting at is that you’re perpetuating a lot of myths here. Just saying.

“I’m not denying there have been tragic cases of rape and abuse on campuses in the past”

It’s good that we can agree on some things! But that bit where you said “in the past”…

“The only people who’ll turn up will be people who (surprise, surprise) already know when it’s okay to shag someone”

As previously ascertained, there is no such thing as a trademark rapist. A person could easily not go to a session, misunderstand whether someone is consenting or in a position to consent and therefore commit rape. Only having good intentions or not understanding in no way reconciles the potential long term emotional, physical or psychological damage. The same person could go to a session, understand a partner’s ability or inability to consent and have a healthy relationship/night/mid-afternoon with said partner. All it took was an hour and a half of their time as well, it’s like magic…

“I want to call the people leading the charge behind these classes admirable, I want to call them heroic, but I’m afraid they’re not. There are countless other more useful things they could be doing with their time”

I didn’t do this to be called admirable or a hero, that should be noted. I’ve done a lot of useful things with my time thank you very much, like writing this blog or learning to paint or teaching Latin to children. I have a life, letting people know about consent is just a tiny fragment of who I am. FYI I think that teaching Latin is what makes me a hero really.

“get off your fucking high horse”

The joke’s on you – I can’t even ride a horse. Also, there is really no need to swear. Maybe that’s just a pet peeve?

“You might find that’s a more effective solution than accusing them of being vile rapists-in-waiting who can only be taught otherwise by a smug, righteous, self-congratulatory intervention”

Really, it’s fine. We’ll just take your name off of the invite list if you’re going to take it that personally. Also, I’m only ever smug, righteous and self-congratulatory when I get a question right on University Challenge or Only Connect.

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At the risk of just reiterating things that I’ve already said, I’ll call it a day there. I’m not perfect and I won’t claim to be. I don’t fully understand consent yet myself and of course there is only going to be disagreement. What I will end on though is this: this kind of tabloid journalism isn’t “free speech”, it’s just harmful and hurtful catalytic nonsense.

Also, don’t swear in your next article. It was difficult to take you seriously.

So what have I learnt today:

  1. I can be uncharacteristically sassy when the mood strikes
  2. Don’t take anything you read on the internet to heart
  3. As a society we need to change, and if I’m going to be hated for it then go forth and hate on me – I can take it

Useful links as promised…

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