By Luana Gavan
The notion of consent classes on university campuses might stir up a variety of reactions, from relief from sexual assault victims who advocate for their necessity, to the indignation of a Warwick University student who labelled them as wasting one’s time by teaching the obvious. Despite their main purpose of preventing future sexual assault from occurring through educating students on such sensitive matters, consent classes seem to not be a priority of Dutch universities. Why is this the case?
Sexual consent education is becoming increasingly popular in countries such as the United States, the United Kingdom, and more recently Ireland, with the Trinity College Dublin introducing mandatory consent classes. In the Netherlands these lessons are rarely taught, and when they are it is usually a student-led initiative. Is Dutch society so progressive as to have no need for further education on this matter, or is it simply easier to fake societal development by politely shunning the issue of sexual assault? A 2014 survey of the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights points to the latter. According to their inquiry into the subject, a shocking 45% of Dutch women report to have been either physically or sexually assaulted during their life, with 18% reporting instances of sexual violence. These statistics place the Netherlands far over the European average, thus shedding light on the importance of prevention programs, especially in the formative years of university.
As comfortable and safe as the Bubble might seem to some, UCU is no exception to the necessity of organized, mandatory consent classes. Both the current lack of such an educational program and the absence of a sexual assault policy in the school administration emphasize uncertainty, and encourage a dangerous ignorance which silences victims and gives students the idea that the Bubble is above such immorality as rape. The truth is, however, that we are a diverse community of students who have gathered from all over the world, with various degrees of sexual education, and different understandings of what sexual consent really means. Thus, the existence of sexual consent classes would not only offer the students a similar understanding of the concept, but also foster support for possible victims, as well as information on what action is to be taken in case the assault does occur.
We must not think of the perpetrators of such acts as exceptional monsters or diffuse strangers who wander onto university campuses. The majority of sexual assault perpetrators know their victims; many of them are their partners. While some assaults occur out of pure ill-will, a great number of them might simply be a result of the harmful ignorance of those who cannot recognize consent, or lack thereof. It is only by acknowledging the existence of a problem and the need for change that we can start working towards educating students and building a safer campus.