Theresa Saad: The Raw Reality of Sexual Consent in Higher Education

People holding placards saying "Whatever we wear
Wherever we go
Yes means yes 
No means No"

Sexual violence is rife in universities yet the absence of eminent consent education alleviates the risk young individuals perpetrating sexual violence or becoming victimised. This epidemic sexual assault and failed identification of sexual consent (on the part of students) is one that though it is recognised by universities is not challenged and dealt with sufficiently. To avoid this there should not only be a source of early deliveries of consent education classes or campaigns to aid young people in identifying and resisting despotic behaviour in romantic and platonic relationships; but that it is promoted to a consistent and sufficient standard.

The voluntary nature of consent classes paints a university’s entire approach to sexual assault and misconduct. It is an afterthought rather than a priority, and where it surely is undermined in significance it will reclaim its taboo identity. 

Placing this issue into a legal light, the majority of legal duties of universities in preventing sexual harassment and violence are governed by provisions in the Equality Act 2010. Statutory evidence proves that sexual consent and its consequences when its disregarded are consequential especially in academic environments. Where students become overwhelmed to balance both a social and academic lifestyle all while the fine line between unripe adolescents and full-fledged adults is crossed in a fast-paced motion, it is unacceptable when one’s consent is disregarded and maliciously violated in university environments. 

Data from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) shows that between March 2018 and March 2020, students in England and Wales were over three times more likely than average to have experienced sexual assault.[1] The majority of perpetrators of stalking, sexual assault, and physical violence were already known to the victim.[2] The close proximity that comes with being immersed in a university leaves young individuals in danger, second guessing almost social interactions made and possibly having your sexual consent violated should not be a fear one should have, but that is the ‘raw reality’ for many. 

Can students socialise with peers without considering the risks that can arise from an absolute disregard to sexual consent? The boundaries should be made obvious, unfortunately that isn’t the case where there are options to consent classes, consent seems to be made optional. These watered-down policies that claim to be assessed do not account for the lives of students that are affected when consent is violated. What’s more important a university’s image or student’s mental health? 

What Has Been Done 

There has been action taken to make progress in dealing with sexual harassment on campus, with nearly two-thirds of universities introducing consent training for students, according to a survey of almost 100 institutions. Research found that universities including Edinburgh, Kent, Durham were conducting classes with aims of ensuring students were able to recognise sexual consent. At some universities, the courses were mandatory in freshers’ week.[3] While these may initially be seen as progressive reforms with increased training for both staff and students to introduce preventative campaigns to address sexual harassment and gender-based violence; this is not enough. Reports and statistics suggest that once again the voluntary nature of consent classes is but a skeleton in a closet of universities, they have not increased or decreased so one cannot overlook where is the effect of these supposed programmes and campaigns? Has the goal really been achieved or is there mere hope for a subtle change?

It is vital that the reality of victims of sexual harassment and violence are not silenced of their past experiences and receive sufficient support provided by universities services, sexual consent made aware and recognised immediately as if it were second nature. What cannot be overlooked, is the foundations of consent begin with students. It is their responsibility to distinguish between consent and force and where influence thrives is between platonic relations. For many, solid friendships are formed in university so it is easy for many to become influenced for the better. Where bad is metaphorized to good the issue of sexual consent is directly dealt with at the heart. It is consequential that it is spoken about to increase its awareness and transform opinions that could have threatened an individual’s lives had it not been for early interactions between friends.

Although solutions have been provided and assessed to ensure the disregard for sexual consent is still very much a part of many young lives, the aim is versatile, the raw reality of those who have had consent violated must be acknowledged and there must be a prevention of potential individuals experiencing this raw reality. 

When sexual consent is understood, sexual consent is recognised and practised.

Works Cited

ONS, Sexual offences prevalence and victim characteristics, England and Wales, 18 March 2021, Table 5.

National Union of Students (NUS), Hidden Marks. A study of women students’ experiences of harassment, stalking, violence and sexual assault, 2010. pp3-4.

The Guardian, Two-thirds of UK universities bring in sexual consent training-report <; accessed 15 November 2022 

Read More About It!

Most UK students want compulsory sexual consent tests before they start university -

Statistics of sexual assault in higher education –

Universities offering compulsory consent classes this year –

Theresa Saad is a Manager of the Queen Mary Pro Bono Society’s Street Law Department

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