Recently, a particularly difficult debate as to whether Consent classes should be taught in universities has been highlighted when University of Warwick law student George Lawlor wrote a scathing article in response to receiving an invitation to an NUS I Heart Consent workshop.
Lawlor rightfully points out that he doesn’t need to be taught not to rape someone, and he would never sexually assault anyone as he knows what it takes to be a good man, student and human being like, I am sure, the majority of people in this world do. So, why has there been a rise in these courses in the US and here in the UK?
The problem is unlike Lawlor there is clear evidence that the reporting of sexual assaults has raised in both universities and the wider population, which arguably means that there are some people who are unclear about what’s right and wrong when it comes to sexual interactions – especially when alcohol and drugs are involved.
In the last year The Telegraph, The Independent and the Guardian all reported that the UK’s top universities have all experienced an increase of sexual assaults on campus, failed to protect their students and failed to take the report of sexual assaults seriously.
It came to light that 1 in 3 women has experienced sexual assault while at university and that due to an incompetence and lack of sexual assault policy at the universities the victims often have to work and study alongside their attacker, sometimes leading to the victim having to leave instead of the perpetrator. We also learned that 97% of those women did not report it to the university 44% because they had no confidence in their institution.
What does a rapist look like?
Approximately 85,000women and 12,000 men are raped in England and Wales alone every year; that’s roughly 11 rapes (of adults alone) every hour.
In his article Lawlor took a picture of himself holding a sign that read “This is not what a rapist looks like” and while he may personally not be a rapist, people aren’t walking around with a rapist sign on their heads – rapists don’t have a look – they could be anyone.
Most people who have been assaulted have been so by someone they already know and even trust to some extent.
Approximately 90% of those who are raped know the perpetrator prior to the offence.
Not only does the victim suffer the humiliation of rape or sexual assaults but they are put off from reporting their assaults because of how poorly the authorities treat their victims with a penchant for victim blaming, meaning that many may even have to see their attackers on a daily basis.
Only around 15% of those who experience sexual violence choose to report to the police.
There are some traits and characteristics that have been closely linked to rape and sexual assault which may actually work as a little warning sign – Narcissism again.
What psychologists say
It was just last month that I reported that people were dying- quite literally -to take selfies that would launch them into overnight fame with one common trait – narcissism.
Now we find that narcissism is also quite clearly linked to the rise in sexual assaults in the UK and the US.
Research by Brad J. Bushman and Angelica M. Bonacci Iowa State University, Mirjam van Dijk Utrecht University and Roy F. Baumeister Case Western Reserve University called Narcissism, Sexual Refusal, and Aggression: Testing a Narcissistic Reactance Model of Sexual Coercion, investigated the theory that narcissism and reactance contribute to causing rape.
They looked at a combination of factors and found that a mixture of narcissistic traits – their inflated sense of entitlement may make them think that women owe them sexual favours and their low empathy means that they would not be deterred by concern over the victim’s suffering.
Combined with all three of the main consequences of reactance – increased desire, attempt to exercise the forbidden option, and aggression toward the person preventing them from getting what they want – would contribute to male aggression toward a woman who has refused his sexual advances.
They found that narcissism was linked to low empathy toward rape victims; they were more prone than other males to express beliefs in the so-called rape myths which often blame the victim for what happened to them.
They also found that narcissists found sexual coercion in film enjoyable proving that the act was preceded by consented flirting – kissing, handholding, flirty talk – because they use that behaviour to justify the later rape or sexual assault.
In other words the person that is most likely to rape or assault you is someone who thinks they deserve it in some way – a narcissist that exhibits reactance.
The scary thing is they may not even want to hurt you. This could be the guy that’s stalking you or asked you out on a number of times who basically can’t take any more rejection.
He would rather be having consensual sex but because you’ve been nice or flirty, maybe even kissed him, he thinks that forcing you is actually fine – you want it, you just didn’t know it at the time. Furthermore he doesn’t care anyway you were just another lay and someone who played a little hard to get.
A Society That Seems To Breed Narcissist: Who’s To Blame?
So we know that narcissism is rising within our societies – since the 80’s more people have shown higher levels of narcissistic traits – it has risen from 15 percent to 25 percent, even though much of that can be attributed to more female narcissists – but what can be causing this rise?
We know that narcissists have an inflated self-worth and believe that they are the best: best looking most important, special and valuable within society. So what can be causing these people to feel, act and behave in that way.
So should we look at the parents – since the 80’s we have moved our style of parenting from quite conservative to quite a liberal stance – all children are special, you should have everything you want, your rights and needs are more important than mine as a parent and a lack of discipline or boundaries. Giving our children a false sense of entitlement and unrealistic idea of how they should and will be treated in society.
How about the schools with their inclusive reward system – since the 80’s we have also created a reward system in schools to make everyone feel special and like a winner and fails to teach them about failure, how to deal with rejection or how just because you’ve made an effort it does not mean that you deserve a reward.
What about the media- the constant sexualised images of perfection and beauty alongside endless reality shows that highlight untalented people catapulting them into overnight fame for nothing which only reinforces the idea of most children who want to be famous and rich but has no plan, idea or talent to achieve that dream.
Then there’s the social media popularity contest – the endless need and competition to get the most likes with the best selfies or posts- reinforcing the idea that they are important, worth something and popular.
We cannot forget the institutional sexism- the police and universities who don’t take rape and sexual assault seriously often victim blaming and encouraging the victim not to report as it very rarely gets resolved. Or our government who have had their own fair share sexual scandals and who still fail to bring their attitudes kicking and screaming onto the twenty-first century when it comes to women.
Some argue that it is also cultural differences – perpetrators from misogynistic cultures where women are seen as second-class citizens like Islamic cultures and other ethnic minorities and even though there is not a lot of evidence to prove this there are individual cases where this seems to have played a part in the assault and the victim that was chosen.
Honestly, the truth is it’s more likely that all of these things are contributing factors and not causality – there are plenty of us that have experienced the same parenting, education and interactions within society and we haven’t turned into rapists or abusers, so they don’t cause someone to become an abuser.
But the right combination of factors can make a person more likely to behave in a negative way toward women and can mean a person is more likely to commit such heinous crimes of sexual assault and rape.
Bringing me full circle- do we need consent courses in our universities and with 1 in 3 experiencing some kind of sexual assault at university then yes I think it could be argued that actually there is a great need for these classes and not just in universities.
Maybe if we can educate people how to spot narcissistic and reactance traits in men and women then maybe we can help to prevent these negative situations from arising so frequently.
So while I respect Lawlor’s position that he doesn’t need a class some men and women really do.