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Freshers’ Sexual Consent Workshops – How Successful Were They?

Whilst the University has progressed massively by deciding to hold mandatory sexual consent workshops this year, student turnout was poor in comparison to what had been expected by the presidents of student housing. It was suggested however that this poor turnout rate was in fact due to a miscommunication as to the compulsory nature of the workshop. But are these poor numbers a reflection of people’s unwillingness to get into the nitty gritty of sexual consent?

The 2015 workshop, which was part of the University’s welcome week, was done in partnership with the Somerset and Avon Rape and Sexual Abuse Support (SARSAS). The workshop idea, once publicised, gained a wide spread of support, with The Guardian and even Buzzfeed applauding the University’s constructive steps towards raising awareness about sexual consent. As the University stated on its website, “sexual consent can sometimes be misunderstood and a number of myths surrounding sexual consent are commonplace.

 


First year students were then asked to take a quiz about the reality of UK sexual assault statistics and to discuss among them the definition and ways to identify consent. The students were given some startling statistics including the fact that one in five women have been victim to rape or sexual assault – an appalling and horrific statistic to come to terms with. The workshop’s main priority however was to focus on changing any misconceptions surrounding sexual assault and rape, including the problems of “victim-shaming.” The shocking revelation that around one third of people believing that women who flirt with their rapists are partially to blame for the assault, is why these workshops were of paramount importance.

One first year resident from Goldney, Elysia Ponzetta, who attended the workshop, discussed with Her Campus why it was so important for these workshops to take place: “It’s important for young people to know what consent is, especially with concerns to being under the influence of alcohol because it’s really easy for it to seem like a girl is consenting when they aren’t.”

From what Elysia suggests, the scenarios posed to them were of particular importance, ensuring that especially in a chaotic and often drink-fuelled time like Fresher’s Week, that students really understood when and how a person consents to forms of sexual activity. Myths such as “agreeing to do something sexual means you have agreed to do everything else as well” and “No means no, but silence also means no. Passivity does not equal consent” were heavily discussed, tackling the more complex myths that rape is rape only when it is violent or forcible.  


Elysia also said: “I think it should definitely be a regular thing for Freshers. I liked the fact they incorporated homosexual relationships into the idea of rape because I think that would usually be overlooked, and also the fact we discussed the misconceptions over “‘she didn’t say no so that must mean she wants it’ kind of thing.”

When I asked her what she thought could perhaps be done to improve the workshops for next year’s students, she stated: “A thing I think may need to be improved is more advice to girls as to what they should do if they are raped, because obviously the workshops aren’t going to completely eliminate rape. Although I do think it has definitely raised awareness.”

It seems that the University has taken promising steps forward into ensuring all students are aware of the importance of understanding the complexities and nuances of sexual consent and are in the process of creating a positive and safe environment for students to make more informed choices in their relationships. However, there is always more to be done and these workshops should be attended by all students rather than just a few.

How do you think the University could improve the workshops for next year? Get involved and let us know by email or Facebook!

If you have been a victim of rape or sexual assault, or have felt violated in any way, please get in contact with the SARSAS helpine. 

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