‘Until it happens to you, you won’t know; it won’t be real’ is a recurring statement in Lady Gaga’s music video raising awareness for victims of sexual abuse. It’s chilling, unsettling and more importantly questioning.
Throughout our lives and especially throughout university life we have all had a taste of the sexual atmosphere that surrounds us. Sex is rife; with weekly hook-ups, one night stands and new found relationships. But how often do we stop and perceive the bigger picture. We never question the small actions because we never substantiate the overall act. We treat sex like a toy for entertainment rather than something that gives unity. Is this element of student life affecting our perception of sex and consent?
I think to the smaller interactions exchanged between strangers either in clubs or on the street. The cat-calls and the touches from people who haven’t even uttered the word “hi”, yet alone sought permission. Our clouded judgement that suggests if you’ve not had sex before a certain age then your purpose is lost. It’s the jibes from friends and the notion that sex is nothing.
But sex is something! And it’s a pretty big deal.
Sexual assault, along with many things, possesses its blurred lines. But what I'm going to tackle is whether an atmosphere full of hormonal young adults propel sexual assault into the wider society?
There is no simple answer to this.
Recently we have seen Universities introducing consent workshops to their students. Warwick, Cambridge and Bristol University are among a select few offering such classes. Warwick’s workshop states that it ‘aims to get students talking about the importance of positive sexual consent at university and beyond’.
These workshops suggest that such a culture is a cause for concern and in order to establish a safer student environment such discussions need to be integrated into the curriculum. The Guardian states that:
“2,100 students in Cambridge found that almost half had been "groped, pinched or grabbed" during their time at university and that over 100 had experienced "attempted serious sexual assault".
Such figures are astonishing.
By these alone, I do believe sexual consent should be a discussion integral to the student population. I believe we need to propel the discussion in to the wider community and aim workshops not only at university students but college too. By doing this we try to clear the confusion about what is believed to be sexual assault. I feel every student needs to be targeted for such workshops and not a select few.
My thoughts lead me to the ever developing internet and the generation that find themselves trapped by it; never having experience a life without it. Does the expansion of such a device propel the growth of such a sexualized culture?
An article released in The Mail suggests that reports of sexual crimes have increased from 55 cases in 2013 to 412 in 2015. The Mail uses this information to suggest that it is due to the rise of dating apps such as Tinder and Grindr.
With the surge in technology over the last few years, online dating and dating apps have become popular and their use isn’t uncommon. They seem to have become an integral part of meeting a ‘perfect’ partner.
There is no doubt that this software does play a part. Swiping left or right on looks rather than personality surely has some detriment to seeing people with a one-sided view. Like Barbie and Ken we choose our next partner based on their outfit and occupation rather than their personality.
Although we may not entirely be a product of our environment, I have no doubt that our environment is influencing our choices. If people turn a blind eye and accept without question that this culture is a by-product of university life, then such behaviours will no doubt transfer to the wider society.
With such superficial behaviours becoming transparent it is fair to say that our society could be fast becoming unaware of what constitutes consent if people are viewed as mere objects.
Some would disagree.
There are claims that while the arguments posed above are substantiated, there is no real, objective evidence to support such a culture existing.
“The assertion that all young people are in thrall to a culture beyond their control underestimates their ability to exercise their human agency and negotiate sexual relationships. And, in the process, the severity of rape is diminished.” (Ella Whelan; Spiked-Online)
By saying students propel the blurred lines of sexual consent into the public eye is absurd. The environment in which we are placed does not turn anyone into a sexual predator and assuming so denies our judgement and rationality. Such claims assume that students cannot think for themselves and are driven purely by hormones.
Every student will tell you rape is wrong. So why are we so caught up in the sexual consent dilemma?
Whatever you think it’s hard not to agree with some elements of the arguments above. And no one can conclusively answer the questions I posed, but it is important we discuss it. We need to discuss what constitutes as sexual consent and how we can respect each other’s sexuality.
So, what do you think?