By Joshua Piercey
A student at Warwick University found himself embroiled in a very public twitter-storm after he rejected an invite to a university workshop discussing the importance of consent.
George Lawson, 19, wrote an article – which appeared in the online student newspaper The Tab – titled ‘Why I don’t need consent lessons’ along with a photograph of him holding a sign stating, ‘This is not what a rapist looks like’.
George Lawson is a bit of a twit, and will probably think a little harder before hurling himself into a public forum, but his case is interesting and revealing.
His article comes across as hugely defensive – surprising, when attendance at the sessions aren’t mandatory, he could have simply ignored the invitation. But he apparently speaks from a position of genuine hurt. He feels unfairly targeted. He resents the implication of the invite.
His resentment is misplaced, but his reaction – and the reaction of those in the comment section of the Daily Mail (pro-tip: don’t read those) – indicates a dichotomy encapsulating why rape culture exists and why consent classes should exist.
Simply put, no one knows what a rapist looks like and to imply that a rapist can be determined by their physical appearance, background or education is misguided and dangerous.
NO STRANGERS IN THE BUSHES
The evidence is conclusive – the vast majority of rape (perpetrated by men or women, on men or women) is committed by someone the victim knows. The people who commit sexual assault do not, presumably, consider themselves evil people. Josie Throup a volunteer at Warwick’s consent workshops and fellow student wrote a response piece to George’s misconception. ‘I wanted to run workshops which debunk the common myth..that ‘rape only occurs between strangers in dark alleys.”
A secondary point, and one that’s problematic in the extreme, is that consent is a grey area, if only from a statistical standing. It’s a simple concept, but the numbers indicate that people have a tougher time getting their head around it than one might expect. “No means no” is all well and good, but when rapists apparently don’t know the meaning of either of those “no’s”, it would suggest that consent classes (or something like them) really are necessary.
The alternative is deeply frightening. The alternative is that everyone who commits sexual assault is fully aware of their actions, knows they are a rapist… and does it anyway.
The idea of an unrepentant, fully aware sexual predator – someone who repeatedly targets and rapes women or men in complete knowledge of their culpability and crimes – is so far from the statistical mark. While they do exist, do we genuinely believe that Warwick University’s consent classes are aimed at these people? That they might read the invitation cackling inwardly, because they know exactly what consent is but just don’t care? George Lawson labelled the consent classes as ‘wasted effort’ because ‘if you’re going to commit rape, you’re not going to go to one of the lectures,’ reasoning so asinine as to be infantile.
People who are ‘planning’ to commit rape are not the target audience. The target audience are those who distance themselves from their actions and believe, and live in the belief, like George, if they don’t fit the profile of a rapist how can they be one?
AN END TO GREY AREAS
I’m aware of the counter-argument to all this, and I understand it. Everyone has a basic understanding of what consent is, an understanding that George Lawson claims for himself, and if they don’t, they should. There’s no excuse.
I would like to subscribe to this notion.
It should be so simple, but it’s not.
Claiming consent is simple perpetuates that aforementioned dichotomy, one that lets perpetrators distance their own actions from that of a completely hypothetical criminal. A dichotomy that hinders self-examination, that allows defensive outrage to outweigh the reality time and time again.
Consent classes are designed to reach for clarity, rather than pretending that clarity is predefined, or that it already exists. The aim is a world where there are no grey areas, no more excuses. If we want to end grey areas, we need to teach people the delineation between black and white.
If you already know about consent, George, then good for you. But next time, instead of being wounded, perhaps the fact that a question about what defines a rapist even exists, might clue you in as to why consent classes are necessary.