Amy O’Callaghan defends the worthiness of introducing consent classes in Irish Universities
There’s a big conversation happening around the issue of consent at the moment, and rightly so. It finally appears as if the horrendous cycle of rape culture is being discussed in an effective matter by raising awareness of how “no” means “no.”
It’s also an especially important topic in universities across the globe, with the rising prominence of “lad culture”, and the lack of attention towards female attackers making education on the topic even more important. Most institutions have addressed rape culture through the introduction of consent classes, recommended programmes (for all genders mind you) that aim to provide a full, proper description of what does and what doesn’t constitute as rape. Sounds grim, yes, but they’re vitally important for a number of reasons, yet, as made evident by a student early in October, there’s major backlash against them.
In October, George Lawlor, a Warwick student, posted a scathing blogpost on thetab.com, stating why he refuses to attend consent classes. In the post, he claims that it’s an insult to assume that he would need them in the first place, with an accompanying picture of himself, holding a sign that states “this is not what a rapist looks like.” He goes on to say that the teachers of such classes are wasting their time, and could be dedicating their time to doing something much more worthwhile. He calls the idea that consent classes help an illusion and told its teachers to “get off your fucking high horse.”
Now, there’s many problematic aspects to George Lawlor’s argument, most notably, his claim that he does not look like a rapist. What he doesn’t understand is that a potential attacker could be anyone, of any race, of any class, and of any gender. The fact that he is well dressed and educated means nothing. Contrary to popular belief, most sexual assaults do not occur down dark alleyways. In fact, according to the Huffington Post, 80% of sexual attacks are carried out by someone known to the victim, which means appearance and social standing really does not matter.
George Lawlor wrote of how insulted he felt to be invited to such a class, claiming to be knowledgeable enough to know what is rape and what is not, but that’s not enough. What he doesn’t realise is that the topic of consent is not as simple as accepting that “no means no,” and is actually much more complicated, which is why consent classes are so important. They are designed to educate people, most importantly students, on all aspects of sexual assault, because according to dosomething.org, 20% of women will be sexually assaulted in university, and 4% of men.
According to George Lawlor, the students of his university, and therefore in universities throughout the world, should be smart enough to understand the concept of consent without classes, but if that’s the case, then why are the statistics so high? If so, why are so many women being grabbed inappropriately on a night out in Cork city, and why is it that so many guys are waking up next to someone and having no recollection of how it happened, but are unable to feel uncomfortable or upset about it because “rape doesn’t happen to men.” Why is it that I’ve seen so many posts on YikYak, from people of all genders, describing events of sexual assault occurring throughout the city, and YikYak is the only safe place to talk about it?
What George Lawlor and his supporters fail to realise is that consent classes are not a sexist attack on all the men of the world. They are for everyone, because unfortunately, everyone, regardless of gender, sexuality, race and class, could potentially end up in a dangerous situation, or could (even perhaps un-educatedly) be the person perpetrating the situation.
What many people don’t understand is that consent classes don’t preach the idea that all men, and only men are capable of rape, and in fact, most raise awareness of the well forgotten fact which is that unfortunately, men are in just as much danger, and have even less of a support network due to this lack of awareness. They provide support for victims and empower them, and provide everyone with a clear breakdown of what consent is. The Irish Examiner recently described how consent classes address the myths, stereotypes and stigma that surrounds rape and students are thought to realise that there’s no clear definition, and that consent eventually boils down to the context of the situation, and the people involved, and are thought how to approach consent in such situations. Consent classes are vitally important for many reasons, and for that I hope they become even more prominent in Irish universities.