How Do We Educate Others on Sexual Assault?

Think back to when you were in high school or college. If you’re still in school, think about your classes. How many times caught yourself or a classmate muttering something along the lines of “this is pointless, why am I learning about this when I was already taught this in middle school?” It’s a reoccurring statement that many of us have said at least once in our lives. George Lawlor, a student at Russell Group University, feels the same way, and has recently used the Internet to voice his anger about unnecessary lessons. However, Lawlor isn’t discussing math or science lessons. Instead, he suggests that lessons about consent and rape are unnecessary.

Lawlor’s argument is a valid concern, and is one that should be addressed. Should schools and workplaces spend time reviewing what constitutes rape and sexual assault? Lawlor explains that “I already know what is and what isn’t consent. I also know about those more nuanced situations where consent isn’t immediately obvious as any decent, empathetic human being does. Yes means yes, no means no.” This is also followed by a picture of Lawlor holding a piece of paper that reads, “this is not what a rapist looks like” with the caption “Do I really look like a rapist?” It’s great that Lawlor understands consent is necessary, but his argument is a tad egocentric. While Lawlor may understand the concept of consent, other students his age may not have a thorough understanding. In Britain, it is estimated that about a third of college females experience some kind of sexual assault. In the US, statistics show that more than one in five females are sexually assaulted. In reality, the number is probably higher, since many victims may not report their assault. Sorry Mr. Lawlor, but clearly college students still need to be educated on consent.

I’m not trying to belittle Lawlor’s argument. In fact, I agree with some of his points. After explaining that he does not need consent lessons, Lawlor asks the reader: “do you really think the kind of people who lacks empathy, respect and human decency to the point where they’d violate someone’s body is really going to turn up to a consent lesson on a university campus? They won’t. The only people who’ll turn up will be people who (surprise, surprise) already know when it’s okay to shag someone.” Honestly, he’s not wrong. You can bribe students with free pizza, but the majority of them won’t show up. Some may tell you they have “too much homework”, while some may flat out tell you that a program about sexual assault “is lame”.  Then you have your George Lawlor’s of the world, who think a program about rape doesn’t apply to them. So how do we get students to become more educated on this issue? The first step is to incorporate consent into mandatory classes. Many universities require incoming freshmen to take a mandatory online class known as “Alcohol Edu”. The goal of this program is to reduce the amount of drug and alcohol related issues on college campuses. Aside from requiring students to pass this program, colleges should also implement a similar program that involves learning about consent and sexual assault. This way, students cannot use the excuse that they’re “too busy” or the class “doesn’t apply” to them. If students do not complete the class, they cannot graduate.

Perhaps the biggest thing that our society can do to educate students about consent is to alter the way media often portrays rapists. Lawlor’s picture says that he does not look like a rapist, yet what exactly does a rapist look like? If we look at film and television, a rapist is usually portrayed as a male with a straggly beard and a white van, or a man with a black hoodie or ski mask. Yet in reality, a person who commits an act of sexual assault can be any race, age, and most importantly, any gender. If films and shows find it necessary to include scenes that deal with sexual assault, a wider variety of perpetrators should be included to educate viewers on the fact that anyone can be a rapist. Hopefully, this can help end the notion that only certain groups of people are capable of committing these acts, and students will realize that everyone needs to be educated about sexual assaults.

Whether or not you agree with it, Lawlor’s open letter about consent classes is important. Rape and sexual assault incidents are still occurring on campuses, and speeches about consent do not seem to be working. I don’t have all the answers, but I do know that there are steps we can take to make sure students are aware that sexual assault needs to be taken seriously. Lawlor claims he does not need consent classes, but there are plenty of people out there who do, and something needs to change.

This article was written by Kim Dilisio, a writer for dusk magazine. 

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