‘Do footballers need to take rape prevention classes?’ – A Critique
After the recent introduction of consent classes to students in universities throughout the UK, and the clear lack of understanding surrounding consent in the media response to the Ched Evans case, I initially found the headline of yesterday’s telegraph article: ‘Do footballers need to take rape prevention classes?’ pretty promising. Were these (much needed) consent classes going beyond students now, targeting adults and groups known for misogynistic attitudes? However after reading further I was disappointed that a rape prevention programme supposedly focusing on education of consent; something that I suspect everyone campaigning against sexual violence will argue is an unequivocally good thing, could get it so wrong.
The article itself actually goes on to show that this programme is not so much about preventing rape as it is about teaching sportsmen how to handle being accused of rape. Do they also get classes on how to handle being accused of theft, homicide or physical assault? Or is it perhaps that rape myths are so ingrained in our society that not only do most of us believe accusations for rape to be false at a much higher rate than accusations for other crimes (even though evidence repeatedly shows they are not), but now apparently we should anticipate them, and invest in programmes that will teach you how to get out of this horrible situation that this ‘plague’ of women is likely to put you in. The article is referring to Prevent, Inform and Protect (PIP) training, introduced by Russ Whitfield, the director of Liberton Investigations who was apparently inspired to carry out this programme by his concern for the ruined reputation of those accused. This strikes me as incredibly worrying. Although false accusations do happen and we should be concerned for how they affect those wrongly accused, the fact that someone who is meant to have over 30 years’ experience in the police force specialising in sexual offence investigations, chooses to spend his time and energy on protecting the ruined reputation of potential future rapists – innocent or guilty – rather than rape prevention for the sake of potential victims is frankly terrifying.
I also take issue with the traffic light system which is used in the training to demonstrate how in some situations sex is ok, in some it is a ‘bit dodgy’ e.g. “the woman can’t really stand up”, and some where it is not okay at all, e.g. if they are unconscious. This is appalling. A person who is so drunk that they cannot stand up is a person who cannot consent to sex. Pursuing sex with that person is therefore rape – it is not merely a ‘bit dodgy’. This is a dangerous attitude. It dismisses certain rape victims and labels the act that could have left them with potential lifelong trauma as merely ‘a bit dodgy’, and suggests a kind of hierarchy exists where some rapes are objectively worse than others. You cannot tell what sort of effect sexual violence has on a victim and you definitely cannot compare one as worse than another. These people should be taught to get active, enthusiastic, sober, consent before sexual activity and anything less than that is rape. There are no ‘blurred lines’ or grey areas.
Whitfield acknowledges the fact that if these men are accused they may well feel that they are totally innocent and that they’ve ‘had a perfectly normal, nice night out’, and instead of addressing and explaining the underlying lack of understanding about consent and rape myths that allow someone to both commit rape and genuinely believe they are innocent, he uses this to shock them into taking further steps to protect themselves from allegations. These techniques include text messages and communicating consent in public or around friends so that you have ‘witnesses’. This is extremely worrying. Saying ‘do you fancy coming back to mine?’ in front of a group of people first, a technique Whitfield suggests, will not make you any less of a rapist if you go on to rape that person later. It totally ignores all other possible scenarios; that maybe they might agree to go back with you without any intention of sex whatsoever, they might think they would like to have sex with you at that time but later change their mind or be too drunk to consent, they might consent to one form of sexual activity but not another, and the list goes on. Using an agreement to go back with someone as some kind of evidence of consent for later sexual activity is simply invalid. It just does not work and I’m astounded that a senior investigation officer could think so.
The article concludes by saying that Whitfield is taking PIP training to universities “where Freshers Week sees droves of sexually charged young people who are away from home for the first time mix together over a small ocean of alcohol. It's exactly the type of situation where Whitfield sees scope for the type of "naivety" that can bring two worlds crashing down in one booze-soaked evening”. The focus on alcohol throughout the article is disappointing as it takes responsibility away from the rapist. It seems to suggest that students + alcohol = rape and that this equation is somehow inevitable. Alcohol doesn’t rape people, rapists do, and they often prey on people who had had alcohol precisely because they know they are less likely to be believed. It also suggests that both people are equally negatively affected after rape. Victims are often suffer with depression, struggle with emotional and sexual relationships due to their trauma and are six times more likely to suffer from PTSD than people who have not been raped, yet he puts this on a par with the experience of the rapist.
I find particularly disturbing the message we are left with at the end of the article: "They have an equal responsibility. The bottom line is that if they have any doubt about consent at all, they're the ones who should be saying no to the sexual encounter". No Russ Whitfield, it’s not, you do not have equal responsibility with your rapist to prevent them carrying out non-consensual sexual activity. They don’t each have an equal responsibility to say no if they are unsure about consent, they each have an equal responsibility to check if the other is giving them active consent before engaging in any sexual activity. This is a very big difference, it’s the difference between treating sex as something all participants should be actively wanting and consenting to and finding a loophole for rapists to rape without calling it rape. If you look to whether the victim said no or not as an indicator of whether a sexual assault took place instead of whether they actively gave consent you will dismiss real rapes as sex. It completely disregards the common response to sexual assault that many victims are simply unable to say no for a variety of reasons such as shock, panic and disbelief, because they are asleep or unconscious or because they feel coerced and fear the consequences of not complying.
These are just a few issues that concerned me form the article, and ultimately I believe that this programme will not succeed in preventing rape or even really provide education on what consent it, it will simply provide potential rapists with confidence in the legitimacy of the rape myths they are being presented with and the tools they need to avoid being held accountable for their actions.