George Lawlor, a student at the University of Warwick, made national headlines this week for publishing an article online describing his outrage at being invited to attend a sexual consent workshop.
The workshops Lawlor took issue with are not mandatory, and have been jointly set up by the National Union of Students (NUS) and the Students’ Union at Warwick in response to the increasing numbers of people around the country who are reporting incidents of rape and sexual assault.
In 2010 a survey by the NUS found that one in seven women reported a serious physical or sexual assault during their time as a student – though no new statistics have been released, there’s evidence to suggest those figures may be even worse in 2015.
According to an analysis released by the Ministry of Justice (MoJ), the Office for National Statistics (ONS) and the Home Office in January 2013, around 85,000 women and 12,000 men are raped in England and Wales alone every year.
However, these figures are thought to be conservative, as only around 15 percent of those who experience sexual violence choose to report to the police. The stigma suggested by this data leads many experts to believe that the real number of rape victims in Britain is much higher.
Even laying aside those stats, Lawlor’s article is too poorly constructed to be taken seriously. It all begins with this photo at the top of the article:
Source – “Do I really look like a rapist?” by George Lawlor via The Tab
In an article on the same website Josie Thorup, women’s officer at Warwick Students’ Union, attacked “the common myth which people like this writer still seem to believe, that ‘rape only occurs between strangers in dark alleys’”, a perception Lawlor’s sign would only help to reinforce.
As Thorup points out, this is indeed a myth. The upsetting truth, according to the aforementioned analysis by the MoJ, the ONS and the Home Office, is that a staggering 90 percent of rape victims know the perpetrator prior to the offence.
Despite Lawlor’s prestigious Russell Group education which, in his own words, marks him out as a man of “intelligence and decency”, he is still capable of making embarrassing oxymoronic statements:
“I already know what is and what isn’t consent. I also know about those more nuanced situations where consent isn’t immediately obvious as any decent, empathetic human being does. Yes means yes, no means no. It’s really that simple.”
I hate to pop Lawlor’s overinflated sense of his own intelligence, but only an imbecile would claim that consent involves “nuanced situations” only to declare in the next sentence that things are as black and white as “yes means yes, no means no.”
But if the above paragraph is Lawlor shooting himself in the foot, he goes on to shoot himself in the brain too.
Lawlor claims that consent workshops are pointless as only people who “already know when it’s okay to shag someone” will turn up. Clearly Lawlor misses the irony of this statement: He claims that he himself “already know[s] what is and what isn’t consent”, despite stating it’s as simple as “yes means yes, no means no.”
The article even goes on to attack workshop volunteers, claiming that they’re foolish for believing “all that’s needed to save the vulnerable from foul predators is to point out the blindingly obvious.” This statement is telling: Lawlor really doesn’t understand the nuance of sexual consent if he thinks that is all that such workshops involve.
As Thorup (who in her capacity as women’s officer is also a workshop organiser) points out:
“Many people think it’s as simple as ‘Yes means yes’ and ‘No means no’ when our workshops teach there’s a spectrum of misunderstandings in between, and consent can only be an enthusiastic yes.”
In fact Lawlor is a perfect example of why people like him need to attend consent seminars. Though he hasn’t committed any crimes, he is in danger of doing something he’ll regret if he fails to understand the workshop’s spectrum of consent.
Despite how much I object to the article, I hate the ideas and not the author. I myself arrived at university with some ridiculous understandings of the world, ones I gladly shed. Added to that, if people didn’t use their right to free speech to write moronic opinions, we wouldn’t get fantastic rebuttals such as the one written by Thorup.
The real issue is that young people aren’t educated about consent during their formative years. In March, the government finally announced plans to give eleven-year-olds consent lessons. Sadly, this is evidently too little too late for some.
Image Credit – I Love Consent Campaign, by the NUS with edits from the Right Dishonourable