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Sexual Consent - is not like tea

Wednesday 27-04-2016 - 18:19

I'd avoided watching the infamous tea video for a while. I had skimmed the blog and knew what it was about, but no one explained the content of the video. That was until I attended the Title IX bootcamp in America.

Trigger Warning: Discussion on Rape and Sexual assault

Last October, the Thames Valley Police launched a campaign called #ConsentIsEverything to raise awareness about sexual consent. The overall campaign included many things, posters and website which were pretty on point for the most part, but the thing that got the most media attention is the animation that came along with it. You know, the one that compares forcing someone to drink tea to rape.


I'd avoided watching the infamous tea video for a while. Mostly because I believe that I know what consent is and I’m pretty sure that the result of being made to digest lukewarm tea isn't comparable to the result of being raped. Sure, I skimmed the blog which the video was based on but no one ever explained the exact content of video to me until I was at a Title IX bootcamp in America.


Most of the students at the boot camp were Survivors, all of whose experiences within our institutions had brought us into this stream of activism. In a session, one of the students described sitting in a room full of people who were laughing at the animation that compares pouring tea down a stick figure’s mouth to ignoring personal boundaries. They also spoke about how some universities thought that playing this short video somehow ‘ticked the box’ for providing consent education.


I knew I had to watch it. I have to admit watching it on your own is a different experience to watching it with a group of people that you don't really know. Whilst watching with an audience of people and hearing the laughter, all I could think is - have they forgotten what this is about? I felt something that was similar to the the feeling I get when someone makes a joke about rape and someone laughs at a joke about rape.
I've summarised my thoughts on this animation into three parts:

1. Students are grown people
I'm up for making things accessible, but first, you need to assess the target audience; the majority being highly intelligent young adults who deserve informative consent education that matches their abilities. We don't need a tea analogy to understand sexual assault. There is no reason to take sex out of sex education.

2. There's nothing funny about sexual consent
Slapstick comedy and sexual consent should not go together, just like you probably shouldn't use a Punch and Judy sketch to make light of explaining what constitutes as a healthy or unhealthy relationship. Why endorse something that encourages people to laugh about a situation referring to sexual abuse? Let's even imagine those stick people were real and an abusive partner was pouring steaming tea into their partner's mouth, conscious or unconscious; would that be funny?

3. Where is the law in this?
There's plenty of things that need to be included in this video -  like the law, which says consent is when a person "agrees by choice, and has the freedom and capacity to make that choice" and which also says a cisgender woman can not be charged with rape (because in the law, rape is defined as penetrating the vagina, anus or mouth of another person with their penis without consent), but she can be charged with “Assault by penetration” (intentionally penetrating the vagina or anus of another person with a part of the body or anything else, without their consent). There's a lack of knowledge in society already; why dilute it further with a funny cartoon?

We need to talk about Sex and Relationships education

It is 2016 and we still do not have compulsory and inclusive sex and relationships education within the national curriculum so many people are not well informed. The gap in knowledge is being left to be filled by student led initiatives on consent education. Managing the quality of workshop facilitators and workshops can be difficult when you don't have people who are trained fulfil this role adequately. With the massive rape culture which exists in the crime prosecution system, I think that it's highly inappropriate for Thames Valley Police to endorse a jokey cartoon for general use in our educational communities.

Now I know there's going to be people that are like “you need to chill, it's getting people talking about consent”. It's not like I don't recognise this, it's just that I think it’s important to make sure that students have access to well-informed education and spaces to have conversations, not derail things with a funny animation about tea. Teaching students about consent is important; it can be a difficult topic, but it doesn't mean we should dilute the key facts or steer away from difficult conversations. Let's not turn tea and consent into the new “birds and the bees”. Let’s have more informed discussions, not funny videos about sexual consent.


Useful links –

Definitions: http://content.met.police.uk/Article/Definitions/1400008450549/1400008450549
Sexual Offences Act: http://www.cps.gov.uk/legal/p_to_r/rape_and_sexual_offences/consent/
* Scotland has different definition

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