A group of bars in the New Zealand capital of Wellington are using ‘Angel Shots’ to help people who feel unsafe on a night out. The code-word ‘Angel Shot’ lets bar staff know that something isn’t right and they’ll assess the situation and help you out. The initiative is gaining traction down under, and comes at a time when young people are increasingly at risk from sexual violence.
When it comes to sex, asking if what you’re doing is okay, makes all the difference. Do you want to do this? Are you into this? Is this okay? It is important to ask your partner, even if you think you would never be that person who sexually assaults someone.
"Failing to ask? The consequences are severe."
Last year I had the harrowing experience of opening the newspaper to the headline that a 20-year old had been charged with raping a 15-year old girl at a party. I went to intermediate school with the rapist, and we both shared an interest in writing. He was a bright kid, and smiled a lot. I was shocked to read the story paired with his face, as it was the first time I’d seen his name in 10 years. The contrast couldn’t be greater between the guy I knew at school, and the rapist before me on page three.
The idea that rape is solely the province of thugs in dark alleyways is fiction. The reality
is that anyone can make mistakes, and cause serious harm to someone, as well as ruining their own life. It’s easy for people to assume they will never be that person because they don’t see themselves as someone who would commit something as frightful as rape. But what can seem like a simple misunderstanding can easily escalate into a situation where someone is being sexually assaulted. This is particularly a problem in my age group at university.
Every year universities in the UK are rife with reports of sexual violence. In the year ending March 2017, students were found more likely to have experienced sexual assault, than adults of any other occupation, with 6.4% affected.
"It’s too easy to overlook the need for consent, and for the seriousness of actions to not be understood until later. Sometimes the realisation of consequences occurs before a judge."
A bad situation can often be avoided with good communication. In the UniSmart presentation, we have a scene on this topic with the characters Bruce and Priscilla. They’re a pair of freshers during O-Week. Bruce is an unusually tall, terribly shy rugby player from New Zealand. Priscilla is from the UK, she’s outgoing, artistic, and loves to party. Priscilla asks Bruce out to an O-Week event. She wants someone to go out with him because it looks like fun. Bruce accepts, and gets the wrong idea about Priscilla’s intentions. They both drink too much. They’re dancing together, and Priscilla has got the moves (Note: in the rape case I mentioned earlier, counsel for the defense argued the girl’s 'dirty dancing' was a sign of consenting. This was rejected by the Court).
Priscilla is basically twerking. Bruce makes a pass, and grabs Priscilla’s ass. Dismayed, Priscilla rebuffs him, informing him in no uncertain terms that he has crossed the line and could be suspended, or expelled, for sexual assault. He could get arrested. Furthermore, Priscilla has a girlfriend and doesn’t like Bruce that way.
"Entering a nightclub is often erroneously given as an analogue for consent."
This is particularly prevalent for gay men, as sexuality tends to form an inseverable part of our identity. The attitude can be: if you aren’t out at the club to hook up, then what are you there for? This comes partly from history with the mostly bygone legal persecution of homosexual acts which forced the activities underground (although this fight continues, as almost 70% of commonwealth countries still outlaw homosexuality). The literature on gay men and their health also tends to almost exclusively focus on sexually transmitted infections, risking the over-sexualisation of their identities, and could leave other areas of their health with scant attention or service provision. Social life as a gay man is often dominated by an overlaid expectation of sex, and this raises concerns particularly around sexual violence. Consent matters for everyone.
What needs to change is for people to pay more attention to signals; first, try to read if someone is actually into you. If someone appears to be flirting, maybe try something, but easy tiger, and be prepared for a rebuttal if they aren’t interested. It’s so important to be comfortable saying you don’t like it when someone does something. You don’t have to glare your offender in the eyes and yell at them; it can be as simple as shaking your head and mouthing ‘no’. Easy, simple, and sorted. If they don’t get the hint, say something clearer, or say something to someone else. Bar staff can be great in this situation because it’s their job to keep you safe. If only Angel Shots were available everywhere.
Bottom line, get comfortable telling someone No. Understand that sexual assault charges don’t just happen to meatheads, it happens to hundreds of students every year. We need to think differently about how we interact with others, because it is no longer acceptable to just have your way with someone. Don’t be that person.