BBC3 open discussion on consent

BBC3 program ‘Is this rape? sex on trial’ has had a lot of coverage on Twitter and stirred up a lot of conversation and a lot of emotions too.  A group of teenagers are given a scenario with increasingly more information and asked to discuss what they think is going on and whether it constitutes a sexual assault. This show picks at the idea that everyone agrees rape is wrong, but people seem to have different understandings of what rape actually is, what consent is and how it should be dealt with.

The Good

  • It highlighted how much we need to educate people as to what consent is
  • The teenagers weren’t judged for their opinions, they were honest and open. We need this to be able to highlight where the misconceptions are and to correct misunderstandings of what consent is.
  • Quite a few teens changed their view as the program progressed and that is encouraging. So often people become defensive but students were prepared to take on each others ideas and consider them. Great example to set.

The Bad

  • The program did not mention once that victims of rape could be male or female, or that rapists could be male or female. There was a lot of ‘oh but girls this’ and ‘oh but men that’. There is no gender divide. That may be the most common scenario but it is not the only one. It was great that they managed to pick so many other assumptions apart, such as previous relationships, alcohol levels and not saying no – but this is a big big one to miss out. If anything, this show perpetuates that myth.
  • Bringing in the legal standpoint was a good idea, but it should have been after the vote as it is not an opinion or a scale. Explaining that yes, this was rape along with the consequences for the rapist and the support for the victim should have been the conclusion of this session and maybe a discussion on how they might act, advise friends or respond to the situation in future – it isnt the system that needs to change, it is our awareness about consent. The reactions to the length of the sentence etc should be about how do we make sure people know what consent is and don’t rape, how do we protect potential victims and alert people who rape out of ignorance (which is still rape).

The Ugly

  • The name of the show. There is an answer to that question. It is not subjective. It is legally and morally rape. It is not a judgement to be decided by the masses.
  • The coach trip part. It’s a serious topic. Let’s not belittle it by reducing it to reality tv tropes.
  • The replaying of the rape scene. We saw it. We understood. Replaying it over and over is traumatic and plays up to the media idea that rape is just another form of sex to be used as titilation. Once was enough. You made your point.
  • The focus on the scary trial and the fate of the rapist will put people off reporting rapes. This would have gained so much respect from me if it had concluded with the legal decision of rape and someone from RapeCrisis coming in to talk through how things are actually handled from the first call. There are fantastic support workers who talk you through all your options and will support you with any prosecution and talking to the police, and will even go to trial with you.
  • The impression was that it was all over after the physical act and there was definite conclusion when the verdict was given. Someone talking about PTSD and living with the experience of having your trust and your person violated would maybe have provoked a bit more sympathy and understanding from the students. It is not just that you were assaulted once, it is the replaying of that terror, a continuing fear and mistrust of others and the constant questioning of what you did wrong, how you could have prevented it or even if you encouraged it that make daily life difficult and can lead to such a high number of victims ultimately committing suicide.
  • Encourage discussion, yes, but please please please then challenge the incorrect views on consent. This could be such a powerful tool to start discussions in schools where education about consent is sorely needed,but I would not have that show played in a classroom unless there was a commentary detailing that ‘she let him in eventually’, ‘she didn’t move’ ‘she led him on’ ‘he’s got his whole life ahead of him’ are not valid reasons to justify rape. If this is to educate, rather than just stir up controversy, then let’s make sure the facts are set out clearly. Rape is not just sex without consent, sex without consent is a violent and abusive act regardless of context.

Malala Yousefzai

Malala has been an inspiration since she first began speaking up for a girls right to education back in 2008. Having spoken out, been persecuted for it and come back stronger than before, and all before her 18th birthday, she stands testament to what can be achieved by anyone with enough courage and the right support. She speaks often of the love and encouragement from her parents. I’d really recommend watching her Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech, and the trailer of He named me Malala to hear about her story in her own words and her book has been on my wishlist for a while now!

Reading about her recent GCSE results in a BBC article made me buzz with excitement. This was an inspirational story twice over. Malala achieved this success in the toughest of circumstances, recovering from the shooting in a new country, attending school with a new language and culture , while still pining for her homeland and giving frequent talks and leading campaigns to promote education worldwide. To gain such high grades inspite of all this is fantastic!

The other way of looking at this, that should lend hope to my students and anyone struggling through school, is that Malala was already meeting world leaders, speaking at the UN and being awarded the Nobel Peace Prize before she even took the exams. She didn’t need academic credentials to make her voice heard and she speaks in such an articulate and powerful manner that no one questions her understanding or her age.

In short, sharing Malala’s exam results should give students encouragement that they can not only work through and overcome any challenge but that their acheivements and their contributions are not dictated by academic success. And that you should never believe anyone who says ‘that’s just how things are’.

Here are links to her Website and Facebook.