TW: rape/sexual assault/violence
The start of term is just around the corner, introducing an influx of new, excited, and perhaps nervous, students to university life. With this new found independence living away from home, often in university accommodation, this also comes with an undiscovered aspect of sexual freedom. But, this uncharted territory can often worry new students. When surveyed by The Tab, almost half of incoming freshers were concerned about sexual assault during their Fresher’s week. This statistic is shockingly high and clearly more needs to be done by universities to implement safety measures and mental health resources, and make students aware of those already in place. But, despite this being a worry for some students, it is important to remember that no matter what happens during Freshers, if an incident should occur, it is never your fault, and there are a number of ways to report issues and to look after your physical and mental well-being. Having experienced the highs and lows of university life myself, I would like to share the most important things to know and remember as a Fresher regarding consent and safe sex.
Whether a Fresher, a returning university student, a recent graduate, or anyone else, consent matters. Consent is an ‘agreement between participants to engage in sexual activity’ that should always be ‘clearly and freely communicated’. Ideally this should be in the form of verbal consent between the two parties in order to establish boundaries and understand what you and the other person is comfortable with. In the 2018 Revolt Sexual Assault Report that spoke to students and graduates from 153 institutions, only 51% of those asked had an understanding of ‘what does and doesn’t constitute consent’. It also found that 53% of those asked agreed ‘that going home with someone means you have to sleep with them’. Again, these figures demonstrate that there is a clear lack of comprehension of what is and isn’t consensual.
So what is consent? According to the 2003 Sexual Offences Act, some of the circumstances where consent cannot be given are:
If a person uses violence before or at the time of the act;
If before or during the act a person fears that violence may be used against them;
If the complainant was, and the perpetrator was not, unlawfully detained at the time of the act;
If the complainant was asleep or unconscious;
If the complainant has a disability and could not communicate their consent;
If a substance was given to the complainant without consent which is ‘capable of causing or enabling the complainant to be stupefied or overpowered at the time of the relevant act’.
However, issues concerning consent are not always this clear cut. Consent can also never be assumed. Therefore, consent isn't given when you feel pressured into it, nor is consent given just because it's with a previous sexual partner or something you have done before.
It is also important to remember that consent can be given for some acts but not others and consent can be withdrawn at any time. For example, making the news in student-led, national, and international media outlets, and even TV shows like I May Destroy You, stealthing has become a powerful topic of discussion. Stealthing refers to when ‘a man removes a condom during sex despite agreeing to wear one’. If you consent to sex with someone with a condom, and they remove it without telling you, then consent is withdrawn. That is rape. And that person can be tried and prosecuted accordingly.
Using a condom during sex is important all the time to protect against STDs and STIs. Therefore, a sexual partner should not try to persuade you to do something that goes against what you are comfortable with by arguing ‘It doesn't feel as good’ or ‘I’m clean’, ‘I’ve been tested’. Only you know what you are happy to do.
Ultimately, the most important thing is knowing what you are comfortable with, what your partner is comfortable with and knowing where to get support if you feel that you’ve had an encounter which has made you feel any less than comfortable.
If you have been affected by issues discussed in this post, you can seek help and support through the links below:
UK Government Website:
You may also wish to check for resources provided by your university for specialist support and signposting.