A senior higher education official has urged all universities to establish compulsory ‘sexual consent workshops’ in order to teach students that “no means no”.
“There has been much discussion recently about sexual violence, harassment and ‘lad culture’ on university campuses. These are serious matters where a zero tolerance approach is required: sexual violence, harassment and ‘lad cultures’ have no place on a university campus, nor anywhere else.”
Dandridge concedes the issue is not confined to universities, saying schools, colleges, workplaces and sports organisations, all face the same “challenges”. What she fails to explain is how women will be adequately protected from those uneducated men who never attend university, or those 16- to 18-year-old boys taking A-levels who are yet to benefit from the guidance offered by her sexual consent workshops.
Blaming the “prevalence of social media in young people’s lives” for particular prominence now being given to what she says is not a new issue, she goes on to discuss the impact it may have on free speech, writing:
“In addressing these issues, we need open and honest discussions about what “lad culture” means and where the boundaries of acceptability are. Issues of free speech are relevant here, with the right to free speech being fundamental to the identity of universities.
“So where, for instance, should the line be drawn along a spectrum of drink-fuelled pranks, offensive comments and misogynistic banter? Where do offensive but arguably legitimate comments turn into unacceptable conduct?”
Dandridge says that proportionality is important and praises “universities across the land” for their “proactive role in working out solutions and tackling the issues”. She specifically cites those universities who have “implemented compulsory sexual consent workshops for new students” and praises the National Union of Students (NUS) for the pilot schemes it runs.
The NUS schemes are intended to tackle “pervasive” sexist, misogynistic and homophobic behaviour in sports teams and on nights out in student towns. Oxford University, Kings College London, the London School of Economics, the University of Warwick, Leeds University, Queen Mary’s University London, the University of Sussex, the University of Cardiff and the University of Bradford are all in that scheme.
No mention appears to be made of sexist, misogynistic or homophobic behaviour in other sections of the university population, such as certain Islamic societies.
The Business Secretary, Sajid Javid, has added government support to the issue announcing a taskforce to help reduce violence against women and girls on university campuses
He has been prompted to react by unofficial data showing one in seven women, specifically self-selecting respondents to the NUS Hidden Marks survey, experienced a serious physical or sexual assault during their time as a student. Over two thirds who responded to the survey said they have experienced verbal or non-verbal harassment, including groping, flashing and unwanted sexual comments, and twelve per cent claimed to have been stalked.
The taskforce will develop a code of practice intended to engender “cultural change” on campuses. Javid’s statement said:
“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.
“We do not tolerate this behaviour in any part of society and I’m not prepared to let it take place on university campuses unchecked.”