A Question of ConsentConsent is common sense. Aileen McGrath asks why students need to be told that no means no.[br]THE issue of consent is emerging as one of the most prevalent and interactive discussions amongst society today. It is a topic that does not discriminate, inviting individuals of any age, sex, and background to partake. From the outset, it could be said that the fact that consent even calls for debate is a dark stain on human and moral development. However, it is time to be prudent and face the harsh reality that this is an issue that demands our action and attention before it is lost entirely.In recent years there has been a dramatic change in the attitudes of young Irish students. The implementation of the so-called “consent classes” in third-level institutions is a reflection of this. Such a move has heightened the profile of this discussion and awarded it an “unavoidable” status.One would assume that the idea of consent is one that should be fundamentally ingrained in all of us. It is, after all a basic idea of respect, which should be inherent in human nature. And so prompts the perturbing question, how did we reach a place where the concept of consent even has to be taught?
“While the word rape is very difficult to hear, write, say or even think of without flinching, consent seems to be seen as more of a grey area.”The definition of the word consent, at its most basic level, is permission for something to happen or an agreement to do something. At the very core of this definition is the broadness and vagueness of the word “something”. What does this constitute? The answer is not clear and so the lines become blurred between what this covers and what it does not.Rape has been and always will be viewed as black or white. While the word rape is very difficult to hear, write, say or even think of without flinching, consent seems to be seen as more of a grey area. It is one which could be viewed as a more PC version of this whole idea that seems to have become watered down and forgotten in its misleadingly innocent presentation. This perhaps suggests that we cannot yet face the reality in front of us and are still attempting to cover up a worryingly widespread error in human judgement.Furthermore, a change in what actions we now view to be eligible for the question of consent to be raised has deepened this sense of uncertainty. In the past sexual assault may not have been viewed as an offence that could exist within a marriage or relationship, the blossoming awareness of this issue has taught us that there are many realms in which this offence can be present.The growing conversation about female sexuality could also be argued to have awarded offenders with a sort of scapegoat for their guilt. The idea that victims are “asking for it” along with the practice of slut-shaming has created a culture of victim-blaming which goes hand in hand with stories of sexual assault. These kind of attitudes have led to a general dismissal of sexual encounters which are being viewed as normal but to the objective eye clearly constitute assault. For example the Brock Turner case, which was dismissed by many as “boys being boys” yet left a woman injured behind a dumpster.
“There seems to be a sense of quiet desperation amongst students who need a level of reassurance and guidance in relation to consent.”The lack of clarity at the same time as the changing understanding of assault and the insensitive attitudes that are associated with it have culminated in the introduction of some consent classes. According to an article published in this newspaper last month, 43% of students said they felt uncomfortable asking for consent. However, a much greater 71% felt it was important to introduce classes.There is a certain level of concern emanating from the disparity of these statistics. There seems to be a sense of quiet desperation amongst students who perhaps need a level of reassurance and guidance in relation to this issue. The want for consent classes could be seen as a sort of cry for help from a generation who have seen the concept of consent become so lost in translation. Although it may be difficult to understand how this has come to be, the acceptance amongst students that it is an overlooked issue that must be addressed is a step in the right direction.There is still however, a certain stigma attached to this taboo issue. Despite the general want for clarity, the actual carrying out of these consent classes would suggest a persistent shying away from the topic.Pilot classes held by the UCDSU earlier this year were reported to have been poorly attended by the very students who supported their existence. This strengthens the belief that there is still a degree of shame attached to this issue. In truth, no one wants to be seen as uneducated or as taking an ambivalent stance in a discussion which divides you as either a victim or a perpetrator.