Recent research by the National Union of Students has found that almost one-in-ten women have said “no” to sex but have been ignored.
It comes amid a vital debate over the issue of sexual consent, triggered by the new guidelines issued last week to police and prosecutors by the Director of Public Prosecutions, Alison Saunders.
The guidelines will require investigating officers to ask alleged rapists whether they claim their victim had consented to sex and if so, how they knew she had given consent.
Filming at a recent training session for students in Aberdeen organised by the Rape and Abuse Support group put the guidance into sharp perspective for me.
The RAS student ambassador Tashana Khan said: “Unfortunately a lot of students around the UK and here in Aberdeen have reported that they have been victims of things like sexual harassment, ranging from street harassment and cat-calling, inappropriate touching in clubs all the way to serious forms of sexual assault.
“So I think that’s another reason why we need to talk about these things and promote active, enthusiastic consent.”
The idea of “affirmative” or “enthusastic” consent has been part of the lexicon of campaigners against sexual violence for some time and groups such as those in Aberdeen will welcome its endorsement by one of the UK’s most senior legal officers.
According to the Crown Prosecution Service, toolkits to prosecutors will “spell out situations where a potential victim may have been unable to consent due to incapacity through drink or drugs, for example, or where consent could not reasonably be considered to have been given freely due to the unequal relationship of the parties involved. For example, if the suspect held a position of power over the potential victim – as a teacher, an employer, a doctor or a fellow gang member.”
When we filmed their training workshop for the latest edition of the #BrilliantScotland series on the Community Channel, RAS violence prevention workers also said that what should be a basic issue of assent is easily complicated by peer pressure, social mores, downright bullying or the inexperience of young students with drugs and alcohol.
RAS worker Francesca Bellei told us: “It is a very simple concept: ‘yes’ means yes and ‘no’ means no.
“But real life often presents us with situations that can seem more difficult than that to navigate.
“We also believe that there are very strong social constructions that tell us things about consent that may not be true.”
The students and the RAS facilitators went on to discuss how the law in Scotland is also changing – even though those changes are not coming quickly enough for some.
Reforms to the Scots law principles of corroboration are likely later this year.
These are partly in response to official figures which showed more than two thousand domestic abuse cases a year could not be prosecuted because of insufficient admissible evidence.
So the RAS campaigners hope their work among students and the wider public will help raise awareness of both consent and corroboration, to help put an end to blaming women for rape.
“For too long,” said Alison Saunders, “society has blamed victims for confusing the issue of consent.
“But it is not they who are confused, it is society itself and we must challenge that.
“Consent to sexual activity is not a grey area – in law it is clearly defined and must be given fully and freely.”
#BrilliantScotland 4 also reports from Fife on the hopes and concerns after last year’s #IndyRef of 16 and 17 year old school students who will become the first under-18 year olds to vote in a general election in the 2016 Scottish Parliament election.
Elsewhere in the programme, we spend time playing “frogs and sharks” with a daring and enthusiastic group of nursery school children learning to ride a bike as part of CTC Scotland’s fast-moving Play on Pedals project.
Brilliant Scotland is broadcast this evening at 9.00pm on the Community Channel, again tomorrow at 07.00am and will be repeated on Saturday 7 February at 06.00am.
The programme will also be available on-demand on YouTube: http://www.youtube.com/user/CommunityChannelTV