At the beginning of Hilary term, the committee were asked to deliver consent workshops to Year 13s from Magdalen School, Brackley. The workshops are usually done with freshers and so we adapted the material to make it more appropriate. The structure remained the same: we started with ground rules to help participants feel comfortable, then moved on to a statistics quiz before exploring scenarios and discussing legal definitions and implications.
The students found the statistics quiz quite shocking particularly those that focused on sexual violence committed against men. We discussed these statistics to try and break down the harmful idea that sexual violence is something perpetrated by men with female victims as this is surely part of the reason why reporting rates are particularly low amongst men as this notion suggests that men who are sexually assaulted are less masculine. This is, of course, completely untrue but it needs to be explicitly stated so that we can shatter this stereotype. Students also flagged up the fact that the majority of cases occur in the home as the media often suggests that sexual violence is something committed by a total stranger in a dark alleyway. While this can happen, this is far less common than being assaulted by someone that you know – a partner, ex-partner or relative for example.
This quiz helped the students realise the severity of the issues at hand and this meant that they tackled the scenarios sensitively. The first scenario focused on unwanted touching in a club and it was saddening to hear that this was something that many of the participants were used to having to deal with. It was, however, reassuring to hear the groups unanimously denouncing this kind of behaviour and deeming alcohol to be an insufficient excuse for unwanted touching. I have found it useful to compare sexual violence to other crimes to make the idea of alcohol as a mitigating circumstance seem as ridiculous as it should do. I often ask participants whether we should excuse a drunk person for carrying out a murder or whether being drunk means that someone deserves to be attacked. Unsurprisingly, the answer is always a resounding no.
The second scenario tackles consent in a relationship and I was impressed to hear students raising the idea that giving consent once does not mean that you give consent indefinitely for the future. Sexual violence in relationships is something that needs to be discussed given its prevalence, and I believe that tackling this issue would be helped greatly if both parties in a relationship understood that sex is not a given in a relationship and that your partner is always allowed to say no. The scenario also touched on consent within LGBTQIA+ relationships which elicited a really important discussion about consent across sexualities.
The workshop was well received by students and staff and we were pleased to have started a conversation about consent that the students can continue. However, leading a consent workshop for this age group confirmed to me that sexual education in schools needs to be improved. While it is important for children to have a practical understanding of sex, it is equally crucial that they are equipped with a knowledge of both verbal and non-verbal consent in order to fight against rape culture.
Tiana Dias, Co-Chair Operations