The survey consisted of questions detailing an array of sexual scenarios, ranging from the students’ attitude towards women to having sex with someone who was intoxicated by drugs or alcohol. A clear trend emerged between toxic masculinity and sexual aggression. The sexual aggressive behaviours included sexual coercion, unwanted sexual contact, rape and attempted rape and these actions were linked with rape myth acceptance, hostility toward women and sexual fantasies that revolve around the sadistic.
The recent spiking epidemic and the very public murders of Sarah Everard and Sabina Nessa has culminated in a gendered, public feeling of terror and uneasiness.
What is striking from this study is the prevalence of male students admitting to such behaviours and acts; the self-awareness of the men appears, in itself, sadistic and trolling. 1 in 9 participants self-reported recent sexual aggression and so the statistics become a gloating, victory march for the violent behaviours confessed to. There is a safety of anonymity, and still, it is deafening that the self-reported numbers, large as they are, will be much larger in reality, with some being incapable of admitting such thoughts and behaviours.
The study set out risk factors that led to sexual aggression among male students. They included assertiveness, aggression, deficits in emotional regulation, low self-esteem, lack of meaningful relationships, attachment issues and those who have been sexually harmed themselves.
In September 2021 it was reported that Incel ideology was on the rise in UK universities, notably fuelled by the culture of drinking and dating that characterises student life. This microcosm paves the way for excessive loneliness and isolation amongst those who do not fit into this life, loneliness that can attract young men to the Incel community.
Incel stands for ‘involuntary celibate’ and the communities are made up of, for the most part, men who have been unable to experience a desirous romantic or sexual experience. Often, this sees them occupy a largely hate-filled, misogynistic headspace that is then shared with like-minded people on online forums.
The incel community has been likened to a form of extremism, with Elliot Rodger’s killings in 2014 being linked to his incel ideology and, more recently, the August killing spree of a man in Plymouth who was openly involved in incel culture.
Not all incels are violent, and there has never been a violent act linked to the incel movement on a UK campus. However, the threat of rising misogyny on campuses across the UK is worrying.
University is meant to be an emancipating and empowering period for all students, where people discover new things about themselves, develop new relationships and interests. However, over a quarter of female students self-report sexual aggression victimisation at university, a number that is significantly higher than that experienced in the wider community.
The results found by the University of Kent are the latest blow to female safety. Sexual assault and violence is often something brushed off as the old guard, that the rising education and conversations mean the threat is lower. However, gendered violence isn’t going to simply disappear and, as concluded, higher education fuels loneliness and anti-social ideology.
A culture of alcohol, drugs and sex don’t suggest that sex is inevitable to anyone who desires it. The education surrounding sexual assault and violence is lacking, notably being instigated too late when habits, fantasies and behaviours are deeply ingrained. Early intervention and education are key and universities need to embrace this moving forwards.
In April 2021, the Higher Education Policy Institute released a study that showed that 58% of students believe that they should pass a sexual consent exam before attending university. One-third of the 1,004 students surveyed also stated that pornography gave them more of a sexual education than any formal teaching.
A sexual consent exam is perhaps a good way of integrating formal consent training into the curriculum at an earlier stage. However, it needs to be taught in a way that isn’t simply to pass exams but establishes the idea of consent permanently into young people’s lives.
Overall, universities need to acknowledge the findings of these studies but so do entire communities; the current standard of sexual consent education isn’t efficient enough if assaults are still occurring in high numbers. Early intervention is key, and with sexual education coming largely from pornography, the school curriculum needs to be updated to accommodate the changing times and access.