What I’ve Learnt About Consent


What do I want to say? The truth is, I’m not really sure. The #notguilty campaign made me realise that I don’t need to blame myself for things that have happened.

I really struggled with the idea of consent for a while. The idea that me saying ‘no’ really did mean no, that I didn’t have to please everyone and not ’cause a scene’. There was a time whilst at a bar on my university campus when a guy I knew decided it was his right to be able to touch me there and then ‘come on, I can touch you anytime I want’. Whilst I was talking to someone else, he came up to me and put his hands up my top and leant into me. I told him to stop, but I felt like I was that person who was ‘causing a scene’, that everyone thought I should take it more lightly. Maybe I was causing a fuss? Maybe I didn’t have a right to say no? Maybe it was all ‘banter’ and I should ‘lighten up’? This happened a few more times, each time I pulled away from him staying ‘stop it’ and trying really hard not to let it ruin my night. But it happened one too many times so I left and sat outside. People came up to me and asked what was wrong-I just said I wanted to go home. Everyone else left for drinks in someone’s flat and I walked home. The next morning, my friend, the only other girl there, told me the same guy had done the same thing her because I wasn’t there. Like I was his toy.

As a first year, naturally, I wanted to make as many friends of possible. The first night of Fresher’s week, a group of us from neighboring flats all went out together to the student nightclub. One guy obviously had a lot to drink and kept asking me to go ‘back to his place’. Trying not to cause a fuss the first time I had met these people, I laughed it off when he put his hand up my skirt. I held his hand when he repeatedly did it again, so I didn’t have to keep pushing it away. I ignored him when he told me there was ‘no way I could be a virgin’ that I was ‘obviously lying’ and that I ‘did want to [sleep with him]’. The following day, he apologised to me profusely. He’s not a bad guy, he’s actually one of the funniest people I met at uni with a lot to talk about, and now we’re flatmates.

The reason for the way he acted was due to modern culture. Society and social media has a lot to answer for when it comes to consent. Pages like LadBible on Facebook glorify sexism to impressionable young people and the concept of consent is rarely taught effectively in schools. For many people, Fresher’s Week is all about how many people you can pull and drinking to excess. Not only is this damaging to the men who feel like they have to sleep with as many women as possible to have value as a ‘lad’, but this also puts pressure on women not to be ‘frigid’.

The president of the society I was in also happened to be my ‘buddy’ and had a duty of care and guidance during my first year. I lost my virginity to him, when I was drunk. He had no idea. One time when I was in town and had lost all of my friends, he ordered a taxi for us. Although I said I wanted to go back to my flat, he told me I was too drunk and I should sober up at his place. After a glass of water, I wanted to leave. But it was the middle of winter, on one of the coldest days of the year, and he told me to wait until morning and go back then, using his position of power to manipulate me. Still wearing my clothes, I got into his bed and fell asleep despite his hints of wanting to have sex. I was naïve. I thought that because he was older than me he knew better than me, and that this must be the right thing to do. At 3AM in the morning, he woke me up by pulling down my tights. I told him I wanted to sleep, but he carried on. Before I knew it he was on top of me and I remember telling him I didn’t want to, but that didn’t seem to matter. He carried on despite the fact I was tearful. In the morning I had to face the humiliating walk back to campus in my clothes from the night before. He wouldn’t walk with me because, clearly, that would be far too embarrassing for him. He used his position of power to make me feel small, like I didn’t have a right to question him or even (God forbid) to have an opinion of my own. He picked me up and dropped me whenever he felt like it.

After a night out, I woke up with the worst hangover I have ever had. I couldn’t even recognise the room I was in. Eventually I worked out where I was and was shocked to see my ‘buddy’ lying next to me. I couldn’t remember anything after him buying me a drink early on in the night. I was even more shocked when he asked if I could remember having sex. I couldn’t. Not at all. He thought it was hilarious.

A few times I tried to tell him what he did, how he made me feel, but I didn’t want to be ‘that girl’.

On one occasion, when in bed with a guy, without asking he initiated anal sex with me. Without my permission. Not while we were having sex, I hadn’t even consented to sex, let alone anal. I was immediately in pain, and told him to leave without explaining why. For the next 6 months, I dealt with bleeding that I couldn’t tell anyone about for a while because I was mortified about something that I believed to be my fault.

I really struggled with the idea of consent because these boys weren’t the monsters I had always been told about, the evil men who attacked girls, they were just normal students who, for a moment, forgot I was allowed a say. However, this is never an excuse. Society, especially the education system, has a moral responsibility to make sure that young men know the boundaries between what they see online and the real world.

In my second year fresher’s week, the Student’s Union accused me of stealing drinks from the bar. They took me to a room away from my friends, and checked the CCTV footage, all of which took about 20 minutes. At this point in the night, I was admittedly very drunk. It was the first time I had seen many of my friends since the year before and I was determined to have a good time. But being taken away from my friends, I suddenly felt quite vulnerable and pissed off that I was on my own waiting for someone to realise I hadn’t done anything wrong. When the manager finally came out and said it wasn’t me, I was so frustrated that I just started crying. The manager took me out into the club saying ‘ahh don’t worry you’ll have a great night’ while pushing VKs into my hand. To take someone away from their friends, to accuse them of something they haven’t done, and then to think the solution is to leave them on their own in a drunk state and give them more drinks is ridiculous. But because I had had a few drinks, I didn’t feel like I could complain after. I wasn’t sure if it was my fault, and I should have expected it. The lack of care for someone who was vulnerable in a place where they should be protected is worrying. It could have been so easy for that night to end badly, for me to have drunk more and ended up passed out somewhere without my friends and with no idea what was happening. Luckily it didn’t, but this is an example of the way that modern society, in particular clubbing culture, perpetuates the conditions for sexual assault.

I’m so happy now, I’ve got the best boyfriend ever, amazing friends and I have completely cut ties with people I don’t need in my life. I think the point I want to make is that although all of these stories involve alcohol, the not guilty campaign has made me realise that alcohol is not an excuse, and that this story is not uncommon. We need to better educate people, to teach people consent, rather than teach girls that if they showed some flesh or had a few drinks then they were somehow partly to blame. I want to stop feeling like I’ve done something wrong, that I’m ‘dirty’, or that I ‘deserved this’ because I partied like every guy at uni does without any consequences.

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