Newcastle University freshers to take sexual consent classes

News Editor Valentina Egorova talks the Student Council's decision to introduce sexual consent classes

17th October 2016

Newcastle University Students’ Union has passed a motion to introduce sexual consent classes for first-year students.

The sessions will teach legal definitions of rape and sexual consent and advise participants on where to get further support.

The motion, which was voted on by the Student Council, was passed by 82% votes.

Sexual consent classes have already been launched at several universities, including mandatory lessons at Oxford, Cambridge, Leeds and Durham.

Some have reacted with anger that they are forced to sit through the discussions, which critics have dismissed as “patronising” and “unnecessary”.

Earlier this month, students at York University staged a protest by walking out of the first class, while a session at Clare College, Cambridge, was completely unattended.

But statistics released by the Students’ Union Council suggest that raising awareness of sexual consent issues among students is necessary.

The report found that 31% of female students said they were victims of “inappropriate touching or groping”.

One in eight male students polled said they were subjected to groping or “unwanted advances”.

Saffron Kershaw-Mee, NUSU’s Marginalised Genders Officer, said: “I know there has been a lot of controversy around consent classes, but at the end of the day the statistics speak for themselves.

“Rape exists. It’s common and it happens implicitly, it happens secretly, it happens in a loving relationship, it happens every single day. It’s so casually done and it’s just overlooked.”

Cara Brooke, a student at Newcastle University, initially proposed the motion.

She said: “We always talk about sexual violence as if it is something bad people do, not something we and our friends do.

“Almost everyone I know has been in a sexual situation that lacked consent.

“The consent classes offer a space for us all to begin or continue conversations that are often silenced or shamed.

“So we can discover boundaries and recorgnise, when we are being harmed or harming someone else.”

Kershaw-Mee added: “It is not just about ‘yes’ or ‘no’ – it is about continuous respect and communication in the heat of the moment. It’s about listening and then responding to that.

“The consent classes are not only to educate – they are also to show solidarity to students at university, who have been victims of rape.”

The sessions will be timetabled for all first-year students, but will not be obligatory.

According to the motion, NUSU “has a duty to implement the social content classes for the purpose  of effectively ensuring students have a safe university experience.”

Dom Barstow, who abstained on the vote, explained his choice: “It’s not that I want people to be misinformed, I just think there are more effective ways to get the message across.

When asked whether he would attend a class, Barstow replied: “Probably not.”

Sexual violence and harassment on campus have been contentious issues for several years.

Last year Sajid Javid, who was the business secretary at the time, called on universities to tackle sexual violence against women on campus.

He issued a statement saying: “Nobody should be put off going to University because of fears about their safety.

“If my children choose that path, I would expect my daughter to be as safe as my son on any campus in this country.

“This taskforce will ensure that universities have a plan to stamp out violence against women and provide a safe environment for all their students.”

Several Vice-Chancellors from across the country were asked to work on lad culture, sexual harassment and violence at universities.

The consent classes will provide information on consent, sexual assaults, rapes, lad culture and relationship.

Last year lad’s magazines were banned from Newcastle University Students’ Union.

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