- When it comes to sex, consent is vital, and a person can only consent if they are capable of making a choice
- Make sure you understand what consent is. Try the hour-long BBC documentary 'Is this rape: sex on trial’ (requires USW login).
- Getting this wrong can have serious consequences.
Please take consent seriously. All universities work hard to provide a safe and enjoyable environment for students, especially during freshers’ week, and we want you to have a great time. You may well be partying, meeting new people, enjoying a drink. When alcohol is involved, there can be occasions when you need to think about how your actions (or inactions) matter, and how others might be affected.
Neither video should be taken as legal advice: both videos oversimplify things.
Legally, a person consents if the person “agrees by choice, and has the freedom and capacity to make that choice.”
Alcohol and other Intoxicants
The Crown Prosecution Service guidance about consent in the Sexual Offences Act 2003 explains the issues and specifically addresses “voluntary intoxication” as one of the factors that can diminish the capacity to make choices – and therefore, make consent impossible. The capacity to consent can evaporate well before someone is drunk or intoxicated enough to lose consciousness.
Is this rape?
The BBC have produced an excellent hour-long documentary. To find out what British young people understand about rape and consent, 24 teenagers were shown a short reenactment about a sexual encounter and asked for their interpretation whether it was consensual sex or if a crime had been committed.
Due to the subject matter, the Is this rape? video can be challenging to watch. You will need a valid university login to be able to view it. It is only available to enrolled students or staff.
Trust and situational awareness
The Knowledge is Power video has a few tips:
- Don’t trust strangers.
- Don’t leave your drink unattended (or accept drinks from others if you haven’t seen it poured).
- Most importantly, look out for your friends, especially if they become vulnerable.
The main message of the video is that it’s important to keep personal safety in mind at all times during a party. The way home is not the only risk factor.
Background: how big are the risks?
It’s an oft-quoted statistic that “one in four” women students experience a sexual assault during the duration of their university course. The source of this figure is the Hidden Marks report , which is based on a survey of female students.
'Sexual assault’ is a term that covers a variety of offences. Any unwanted touch (such as groping or kissing) is covered by the phrase, as are very serious assaults such as rape. For a breakdown of figures, see pages 16 and 17 of the Hidden Marks Report.
Fortunately, the likelihood of becoming a victim of rape or attempted rape while studying at university is much lower than the “one in four” figure that is often mentioned.
The Hidden Marks report revealed several other facts of relevance:
- Serious sexual assaults (such as rape) mostly involved perpetrators who were known to the victims: acquaintances, friends or (ex-)boyfriends
- Less serious assaults (such as groping) mostly involved strangers, and in many cases took place in public locations, such as night clubs.
- Students were more likely to be the victims of an incident in their first or second year of study than in later years.
“Stranger danger” shouldn’t be ignored, but tragically, the bigger danger is people who don’t understand sexual consent properly.