Consent. Something everyone knows about now, what with the cute tea video, right? It is in fact this attitude of ‘everyone knows what consent is now’ that causes damage. There has become a rhetoric of ‘good guys vs bad guys’ which simplifies consent in a way that is incredibly harmful.
It has come to my attention that when women (although this does not exclude men) decide to share their experiences, they often don’t feel they have the right to say they have been raped or sexually assaulted, because it happened at the hands of a nice, open-minded person. It wasn’t violent, you didn’t protest and he’s just such a lovely guy who has said he’s a feminist, so it can’t be what it felt like? Surely it was just an awkward one night stand? What is worse, when these men are then confronted, even in a way that just slightly implies what they have done, their instant re-action is: ‘I am not that guy. How dare you put me with those guys?’
This is the key: they never think of themselves as those guys, i.e. bad guys. In his book about masculinity, Grayson Perry points out just that; ‘if a Default Man commits a crime’ say sexual harassment, ‘it is because he is a wrong ‘un [and] if they do something bad, it is also down to the individual.’ So, they’re perfectly happy to shame obviously bad guys who have committed horrible actions, because those are the people that consent talks are directed at.
They do recognize that these bad guys exist, but they, the good guys, are so far removed from them that they aren’t in any danger of meeting. This belief is incredibly harmful. It causes victims to not come forward, thinking they will not be believed, and what’s more it makes victims doubt what actually happened to them. Surely, that’s not what happened, it can’t have been because he’s one of the good guys, I must be wrong. It’s this contradictory feeling of knowing what happened but not feeling the right to call it sexual assault.
In a culture where intoxication is an everyday and socially accepted state, for students in particular, it should be noted that a lot of the perpetrators do not set out to commit this crime. They’re poorly educated in the ways of consent and cannot see the fine line. It is also why a lot of rapists will not admit that they are rapists, not purely because they don’t want to (I mean who would?), but also they genuinely believe that it’s not what happened.
Whether you agree with consent talks, whether you think con-sent education should be started way before university, the reality must be faced. There is a deep misunderstanding of consent within the current generation of young adults that only alienates victims. It’s all very well to have a ‘progressive’ view of consent when it doesn’t affect you, but as soon as it involves your amazing, popular and lovely guy friend as someone who lacks understanding, the support for the victims weakens. It’s not necessarily that people will openly argue against the truth, it’s the fact that people will look past it, unable to locate that behavior in their dear friend. The excuse is not that they forgive them or don’t think it happened; they just block it out. Well, I’m glad they can look past the rape, while the victim left with the trauma has to live with the realities and consequences.
So this is a call to stop thinking of rapists as those bad guys. This is a call for understanding. A person does not have to be aggressive, violent or antisocial to be a rapist. It is not to say that trust in everyone should be waived. It is a call to listen to the victims and not excuse the rape just because someone is nice and you don’t want your image of them to be spoilt.