Rejecting “consent” training

University of Warwick student George Lawlor took the bold position of standing up to “consent training.” I wrote about the feminist push to teach students about “enthusiastic” or “affirmative” consent in my previous post. It is the idea that people, particularly men, fail to understand when their partner consents to sex. In order to prevent these instances of mistaken rape, the partners must get enthusiastic, typically verbal consent from their sexual partners.

This notion makes little sense. Most people understand the concept of consent. They understand that it is wrong to have sex with someone who does not want to have sex with you. This is something so basic that even I understood this despite growing up in a home where sexual assault was frequent.

The idea that our children, particularly our boys, need to be taught not to rape is ludicrous and insulting. However, a greater insult would be thinking that they should be invited to an event to train them not to rape. This is what happened to Lawlor:

Ah, the special feeling you get when logging into Facebook and find someone thinks you’re cool enough to invite to their event. Is it a house party? Is it a social? All the possibilities race through your mind. Then it hits you. You tap the red notification and find you’ve been summoned to this year’s “I Heart Consent Training Sessions”. Your crushing disappointment quickly melts away and is overcome by anger.

Let me explain, I love consent. Of course people should only interact with mutual agreement, but I still found this invitation loathsome. Like any self-respecting individual would, I found this to be a massive, painful, bitchy slap in the face. To be invited to such a waste of time was the biggest insult I’ve received in a good few years. It implies I have an insufficient understanding of what does and does not constitute consent and that’s incredibly hurtful. I can’t stress that enough.

I feel as if I’m taking the “wrong” side here, but someone has to say it – I don’t have to be taught to not be a rapist. That much comes naturally to me, as I am sure it does to the overwhelming majority of people you and I know. Brand me a bigot, a misogynist, a rape apologist, I don’t care. I stand by that.

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. You’d think Russell Group university students would get that much, but apparently the consent teachers don’t have as high a regard for their peers as I do.

That is the core of this concept. It is rather typical of many ideologues, so no one should assume that this arrogance is limited to feminists. That said, the way these activists behave is as if they recently stumbled onto the idea of asking for consent before having sex with someone and decided to share it with everyone else as if we did not already know it.

This is akin to when a toddler discovers that fire burns and decides to share that with everyone. We already know this,  but for a while we humor them. Yet after a few days we tire of being told that fire burns. Again, we already know fire burns, and most of us have the sense not to set things on fire or put flammable objects near heat sources or open flames.

This is not to say that no one should tell people not to do these things. Some of us do need reminding. Yet if the purpose for bringing up fire safety is to prevent arson, this will be rather ineffective for an obvious reason: arsonists already know it is wrong to set things on fire. They do not care. They just want to see things burn.

The same thing applies to rapists. It is unlikely one will find an unknowing rapist, someone who had sex with a person they did not know did not consent. It is certainly possible, perhaps via miscommunication, however, it is unlikely that anyone speaking the same language would actually think when a person says “No. Stop.” those words mean “Yes. Do it.” The person who continues to act after those words are spoken knows full well they do not have consent. They simply do not care.

Like Lawlor:

I’m not denying there have been tragic cases of rape and abuse on campuses in the past, but do you really think the kind of people who lacks empathy, respect and human decency to the point where they’d violate someone’s body is really going to turn up to a consent lesson on a university campus? They won’t. The only people who’ll turn up will be people who (surprise, surprise) already know when it’s okay to shag someone. No new information will be taught or learned. It will just be an echo chamber of people pointing out the obvious and others nodding along, thinking the whole time thinking that they’ve saved the world.

One can imagine the chants of “Rape bad! Rape bad!” at these workshops.

All joke aside, Lawlor is correct. When have we heard of a person attending one of these sessions or events coming out of them saying that they now know why they should not rape? This does not happen because the only people concerned with not raping people are those who do not want to rape people. No one going to these events walks in thinking “I’m gonna rape her, then her, then the red-head, and maybe that guy over there if I can gag him,” hears the talks about asking for consent, and then goes “You’re so right! I’m not going to have sex without consent ever again!”

Such an idea is so ridiculous that if you read that in a book or saw it in a film you would roll your eyes or laugh. Yet scores of feminists think this is the most probable reaction to their seminars on how not to rape people. And as Lawlor states:

There are countless other more useful things they could be doing with their time. They could be making a difference by actually going out and campaigning, volunteering and caring for other people. Instead they selfishly make themselves feel better by indulging in the delusion that all that’s needed to save the vulnerable from foul predators is to point out the blindingly obvious.

Which is why hundreds of them took to social media to attack Lawlor for daring to question them. Josie Throup, one of the organizers of the ‘I Heart Consent’ workshops responded to Lawlor’s comments:

As the campus Women’s Officer I’ve been running around making sure my volunteers are prepared, their hands full of sticky notes, their heads full of ice breaker games. So when I read an article claiming an invitation to these workshops is “an insult”, I’ll admit, I was angry.

The author implied I Heart Consent workshops are classes which teach men not to rape, and an invitation to one is therefore tantamount to an accusation. He felt uncomfortable with the idea that he himself, “a decent empathetic human being”, was being implicated in a crime he would never commit.

The truth is, I’m not sorry my workshop made this writer feel uncomfortable. The first time I was confronted with the statistic that 80 per cent of rape survivors know their attacker, I felt the same. When I thought about this and realised most rapists are normal members of society, I felt sick. I still do feel sick when I think about the cycles of abuse perpetrated by partners, parents, and friends of people I know. Self-styled “decent, empathetic human beings”, like this writer.

That completely misses Lawlor’s point. It is not about him being a decent empathetic human being; it is about him not needing to be told not to be a rapist.

Yes, that most victims know their abusers is staggering. It completely dispels the idea that rapists are some strange men lurking in the shadows ready to pounce on the first woman they spot. Yet that is not what these “affirmative consent” campaigns are meant to address.

They do not address the instances in which someone pretends to befriend a person with the intent of forcing them into sex. They do not address the instances in which someone drugs a person in order to have sex with them. They do not address the instances in which someone manipulates or coerces someone into sex. All of these instances are deliberate actions that no one would assume could result from a misunderstanding. You know when you drug someone. You know when you manipulate them. You know when you lie to gain their trust.

To say that the average person needs to be taught not to do these things implies that they already or will do them. That is insulting. Granted, Throup was not concerned about that:

I wanted to run workshops which debunk the common myth which people like this writer still seem to believe, that “Rape only occurs between strangers in dark alleys.” He took a picture with a sign, proclaiming “This is not what a rapist looks like”, when the truth is, it is.

I’m not saying this writer himself has sexually assaulted someone but he seems to believe there is a particular profile of person that would, who’s too busy lurking in the shadows somewhere to attend a consent workshop.

No, that is not what he stated. What he stated was, “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. You’d think Russell Group university students would get that much, but apparently the consent teachers don’t have as high a regard for their peers as I do.”

As I stated before, it is as if Throup discovered that fire burns and now must share that with everyone, despite that apparently everyone but her already knows this. Or as she says:

The truth is, sexual violence is enabled on a cultural scale. Columnists in broadsheet newspapers write of women “asking for it”, catcalling and groping is an everyday part of the lives of women and LGBTUA+ people, and 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.

It is interesting that in her zeal to address sexual violence Throup left out male victims. One supposes raped men do not count unless they belong to whatever “LGBTUA+” is supposed to represent. Throup goes on to complain about rape chants and the survivors would be traumatized by them and the perpetrators who would be empowered.

In 30 years of dealing with sex offenders, I have yet to meet a single person, not one man or woman, who heard a chant like “No means yes! Yes means anal!” and felt empowered to rape. It is this kind of ideological stupidity that actually enables rapists. What is it that people like Throup think rapists think? Do they really believe that rapists are waiting for social approval before they assault people? Do they really believe that rapists will be moved by tasteless jokes?

As much I complain about society mocking female-on-male and how that attitude can make it possible for women to get away with horrendous crimes, I do not believe that Bill Maher telling a teacher rape jokes will empower the next female sex offender. She will rape regardless of whether Maher tells the joke or not because her behavior has zero to do with him. It is about what she wants to do and what she thinks she can get away with. She already knows what she is doing is wrong, which is why she will tell her victim not to tell anyone. No “I Heart Consent” workshop will stop that.

Yet Throup is convinced that:

This is what these workshops are all about. We’re starting a conversation, raising awareness of an issue too often misunderstood. Part of that is targeting potential perpetrators, but another part is empowering survivors and giving general students the chance to learn how their actions form part of a culture and how they can make those actions more supportive to survivors of sexual assault at Warwick and beyond.

I hope our critics can learn to do this too. You may not like our consent workshops, but please, have a heart.

I will let Lawlor handle that one:

Self-appointed teachers of consent: get off your fucking high horse. I don’t need your help to understand basic human interaction. Secondly, go and do something. Real people need your help and they deserve better than you. Next time you consider inviting me or anyone else to another bullshit event like this, have a little respect for the intelligence and decency of your peers. You might find that’s a more effective solution than accusing them of being vile rapists-in-waiting who can only be taught otherwise by a smug, righteous, self-congratulatory intervention.

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6 thoughts on “Rejecting “consent” training

  1. A bit tiresome and lengthy.

    And I feel it misses the point.

    What would life be like without the grey areas, without something occasionally getting out of hand? If you wanted a society that is completely safe, it would have to become incredibly oppressive and completely subdue free expression through body and mind to the point that people would only anymore regard sex as an intellectual challenge and business deal.

    There is a component to sex that is dangerous. It should be that way. When I read articles like that stupid ‘Cup of Tea’ comparison, I want to puke. Idiotic metaphors.

    I used to have a lot of rape fantasies due to a hatred towards my mother and thus women. I wanted to actually hurt a woman physically like I had been hurt emotionally. These days, that is almost gone.

    Or let me say that I have integrated it insofar as that I do not see violence and danger and consensuality as polar opposites anymore.

    Sometimes, somebody will get hurt. But I will protest any notion that wants to force all members of a society to verbalize every little feeling and action before doing it. I do not want to live that way. What about the girl who says no while her eyes say otherwise? Why is verbal language so much more important? Why is tone of voice not being considered? Maybe because people only read and text and do not live anymore. They think that live consists of words and ideologies. I used to think that way.

    But people want safety and control, an impossibility. So they end up inventing idiotic rules and procedures to make it safe, predictable. But that is not living. That is surviving. That is a life dominated by fear of something bad happening, instead of a life dominated by the joy of freedom, challenge and danger. And sometimes violence and pain.

    Quoting from a movie: The world is grey, Jack.

  2. The first time I was confronted with the statistic that 80 per cent of rape survivors know their attacker, I felt the same. When I thought about this and realised most rapists are normal members of society, I felt sick.

    No, they are not, by dint of being rapists. The statistic does not support your assertion, lady. Embezzlement is usually done by someone close to the victim or victims, by definition, but that doesn’t mean embezzlers are normal.

    Rape culture is supposed to be the set of beliefs and practices that normalize rape, but the most prominent group explicitly treating rapists as normal men (who just happened to commit rape) are…feminists. Talk about a self-perpetuating cycle.

    our workshops teach there’s a spectrum of misunderstandings in between, and consent can only be an enthusiastic yes.

    It’s also odd how so many of these self-styled experts on sex and consent don’t seem to realize that many people have sex reluctantly, which doesn’t make it rape. It’s also odd, come to think, how few actually provide any actual examples of anyone being raped because of good-faith confusion over consent.

    This is what these workshops are all about. We’re starting a conversation,

    This would presumably be the “SJW” definition of “conversation”, which is really more like “monologue” or “echo chamber”.

  3. ” It is unlikely one will find an unknowing rapist”

    But that’s not what feminists believe, remember. To them, rape is on the spectrum of activities of normal men, as Valenti or Marcotte said (maybe both).

  4. “I still do feel sick when I think about the cycles of abuse perpetrated by partners, parents, and friends of people I know. Self-styled “decent, empathetic human beings”, like this writer.”

    What absolute crap, tantamount to an accusation. And for those of us having had to deal with abusers in our past, the truth is that they’re not “decent” or “empathetic”, it’s a deceptive façade. As well as having been sexually assaulted myself, I also had to save a girl (at her behest I might add) from a guy who had “serial rapist” written all over him. Not remotely decent or empathetic.

    The truth is there’s no rape culture. Just ignorance around the subject, with both “you were wearing that, you were asking for it” and “teach men not to rape” as symptoms of an ignorance borne from the fact that rape and sexual abuse is such an unpleasant subject on a visceral level that we turn a blind eye to it in society, and as a result, fail to understand it.

    And shamefully, those who cry “rape culture” take advantage of that.

  5. After reading about this and peripherally related issues many, many times in many different places, here are some things I have learned:

    1. There appears to be a non-trivial amount of women who will, in sexual escalation situations, go all deer-in-the-headlights and passively comply with or allow the sexual escalation despite wanting the situation to stop, with no outward sign (e.g. shaking, crying) that this is the case. This includes but is not limited to people who already have a history of surviving sexual abuse. I can’t really tell if this is, say, <1% of women or ~20%, all I can tell you is that I have seen women commenting on these sort of articles that this happens to them.

    2. In no small part due to feminism, some women seem to believe that refusing to comply with men's sexual advances will result in significant and often violent consequences e.g. violent rape instead of non-violent rape, a beating, social isolation etc. Is not necessarily found in a woman that does 1 above (but can also be a result of past abuse).

    3. Many men seem to find it normal for many women to be passive during clearly consensual sex.

    4. Both men and women seem to expect the man to be initiating most or all sexual escalation.

    5. Most women do seem to have some desire to maintain plausible deniability in regards to courting behaviour and do not feel comfortable using direct communication in sexual situations.

    The following is conjecture:

    I think very, very few if any men do 1 or 2. I think that it wouldn't even occur to the vast majority of men that a woman might do 1 or 2. These men assume, reasonably in my opinion, that any woman will clearly reject his sexual advances or escalation if she wants the situation to stop or not escalate. They are not expecting (again, reasonably in my opinion) to have the responsibility of actively checking in to see if their partner is consenting because they themselves would clearly deny consent if they wanted to stop, and failure to do so is a concept alien to them.

    Unfortunately, 3-5 being the case provides a lot of ground to disguise 1-2. The clearest non-verbal sign of consent is active participation, and if plenty of women do not do much active participation in sex (whereas nearly all men do), this will muddy the waters.

    All of these consent education things and the enthusiastic consent standard seem to completely fail to take 3-5 into account and this results in an enormous and in my view unfair burden onto men in order to detect and mitigate 1-2 on behalf of women, rather than expecting women who have these issues to take responsibility for them. I hope I’m not remiss in saying – I’m pretty sure 1 and/or 2 count as pathology. They’re not healthy and I really hope they’re not common. Personally, I’d teach everybody that 1 and 2 do exist, and also that 3-5 can present problems and that they need to be very clear in their communication about consent to avoid misunderstandings – and if they have 1 or 2 they should probably also be careful to avoid sexual situations until they are able to overcome them. Teaching men that “no means no” means nothing if any non-negligible amount of women can’t or won’t give a clear no, and “yes means yes” is equally useless if reality bears out that clear yesses are very hard to come by. And it’s best to teach both genders everything in any case.

    That being said, I’m pretty sure that if anyone needs to be taught not to rape, it’s women who are far more likely to be taught that they can’t commit rape, that men cannot be raped, and that sex is always desired by men, and any number of other harmful messages that might lead to a woman committing “accidental rape”.

    Sorry, this was really long.

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