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Understanding sexual consent: The part of sex education you were never taught.

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Some survivors try to convince themselves that it wasn’t a big deal, that they didn’t get hurt or become pregnant. Others believe that they must have deserved it in some way or perhaps didn’t say “no” enough.

The year ending March 2020 Crime Survey for England and Wales (CSEW) estimated that 1.6 million adults aged 16 to 74 years had experienced sexual assault by rape or penetration (including attempts) since the age of 16 years. 

The bottom line is non-consensual sex or touching is sexual assault.

It is essential to understand the meaning of sexual consent in order to treat others with dignity and respect, while also keeping yourself safe. It can be easy to convince yourself that that “it wasn’t that bad” or “perhaps I wanted to really”, but it is imperative that survivors of assault know that it is NEVER their fault and that they deserve the appropriate support that can be offered to them.

 

So, what is sexual consent? 

Sexual consent refers to an individual actively providing a clear agreement to participate in a sexual activity, without force, coercion, bullying or life-threatening behaviour. In other words, you enthusiastically consented to participate in the sexual activity because you wanted to. 

 

Sexual consent should be:

  • Given freely - without persuasion or manipulation.
  • Enthusiastically given - without feeling obliged to engage in the activity.
  • Fully informed - you are aware of what is happening.
  • Specific- Consenting to one thing does not automatically mean you consent to something else.
  • Involves being able to retract your decision - It is okay to change your mind at the last minute or during. 

 

Sexual consent is not:

  • Performing a sexual act on someone who is highly intoxicated or drugged and therefore, cannot give fully informed consent.
  • Touching an individual’s body in a sexual manner, without permission.
  • “Stealthing”- Removing the method of contraception (such as, a condom) during sex, without permission. 
  • Performing sexual acts on an individual whilst asleep/unconscious- even if they are in a relationship.
  • Taking explicit images or videos of a sexual nature, without the person’s permission. 

As you can see, the main theme here is allowing someone to give clear permission!

 

Experiencing a non-consensual sexual experience can affect individuals in many different ways. Here a few:

  • Inability to trust people - Difficulty forming and maintaining close relationships and friendships. This can also lead to feelings of loneliness and depression.
  • Previous unresolved trauma can be reignited - Experiencing sexual assault can trigger dormant trauma from the past, for example encountering abuse as a child. Therefore, this can lead to a range of negative emotions such as, hopelessness, low mood and worthless. 
  • Depression- As a result of sexual assault, many survivors suffer from low self-esteem and depression, often accompanied by lethargy or a loss of interest in activities they once enjoyed. 
  • Resort to problematic coping strategies - It is understandable that many survivors utilise specific coping strategies that allow them to numb their emotional turmoil and escape from everyday life. These could be alcoholism, drug use, promiscuous behaviour, or self-harm, for example. Therefore, it is important that the individual receives the right support from a mental health professional. 
  • Feeling uncomfortable in your body - This is a very common experience for survivors of sexual assault. Along with this, survivors may notice a change in their sleep patterns and appetite. 

 

What you can do if you have encountered sexual assault:

  • Remember that it is NOT your fault.
  • Speak to a trusted friend or family member.
  • Contact the wellbeing team: https://www.roehampton.ac.uk/student-support/wellbeing-support/
  • Speak to a bystander at an RSU event.
  • Speak with you GP.
  • Reach out to specialist external organisations:
    • a voluntary organisation, such as Women's Aid, Victim Support, The Survivors Trust or Survivors UK (for male victims of sexual assault).
    • the 24-hour freephone National Domestic Abuse Helpline, run by Refuge, on 0808 2000 247.
    • the Rape Crisis national freephone helpline on 0808 802 9999 (12-2.30pm and 7-9.30pm every day of the year)
    • the police, or dial 101. In an emergency, dial 999

 

What you can do to help the community:

  • Spread awareness of the importance of sexual consent.
  • Be an active bystander- but always keep yourself safe by delegating to the appropriate person/department.
  • Complete the consent matters trainingRegister · Epigeum Online Course System (insert token - 038b8af1)

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