It’s Time to Consent

Watching Frozen for the millionth time, I’m still surprised that Kristoff asks Anna whether he may kiss her.

Expecting the hero to seize a victory smooch, I realised we’ve long forgone consent because we’re not used to seeing or asking for it. Here was a Disney film portraying consent for a kiss, when 55 years ago the kiss in Sleeping Beauty was metaphor to obscure the character’s rape. Our popular culture, which so heavily socialises us, has brushed over the need for consent.

We’re all given Sex Ed. at primary school, and talking about sex becomes as ordinary as a DFS sofa sale. So it’s disappointing that university students find drunken hook-ups less awkward than talking about consent.

It’s defined as “agreeing by choice and having the freedom and capacity to make that choice.” But even the definition is dubious (how far is your choice free from pressures and how much legal capacity do you have to make that choice?) So it’s no surprise that people find it difficult to discuss.

But this is changing.

The NUS reported that a third of female students are sexually assaulted, including being groped, cat-called and pressured into sex. And it’s possible another third had no idea it was an assault. One victim said, “It’s a basic human right and people forget this.” As a response, Susuana Antubam at NUS (RHUL alumni and former President of the Feminism Soc), designed the ‘I Heart Consent’ workshops to discuss what consent means and enlighten participants about rape myths, lad culture to slut and prude shaming.

Running the workshops at RHUL is Co-President Welfare & Diversity Sidonie Bertrand-Shelton, who is inspiringly passionate about what these workshops mean. “It shouldn’t just be giving free condoms in goodie bags,” she says, “NUS want to tackle issues by encouraging a change in ideas.”

The workshops she runs express this; they aren’t scolding lectures, but interactive group sessions. Neither are they heteronormative or female-centered, as the conventional idea surrounding consent seems to be. Sidonie’s workshops aim to inform people about all victims of lacking consent, especially those left out of statistics.

“It was like a wake-up call to a lot of the participants, like the myth ‘it’s only gay men who rape/are raped by men’. A lot of them had no idea.”

The campaign provides a safe area for people to discuss these sensitive issues. The president of the LGBT+ society, Jack Kilker, felt that there was space to talk about affects of sexual assaults and consent issues for LGBT+ people, stating “it was so openly stated that issues of consent affect everyone.” As a demisexual, any sexual advancement is uncomfortable to me, so consent becomes doubly important. While confusion about sexual identity is a reality for many young people – talks about it are even alienating – this doesn’t exempt them from consent. There is a greater need for understanding both sexual identity and consent, but most of all the issue seems to be summed up with a lack of communication between the people involved.

Sidonie found feedback overwhelmingly positive, with participants responding that workshops should become compulsory. In fact, Oxbridge have already made a move in this direction, so what’s keeping us back? “We need more people to attend the workshops and even lead them. We need more people to give their voice and challenge societal expectations of consent.”

For more information on the campaign, here is Sidonie’s own explanation of it: http://www.su.rhul.ac.uk/voice/blog/cpwelfare/2014/10/10/Why-Talking-About-Consent-is-Important/

If you have any worries, questions or input in the campaign, email Sidonie at [email protected]