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Sexual Consent Still a Grey Area for UK’s Young People’ | Educational video’s launched by Cambridge University aim to reduce Sexual Assault cases

‘Consent is a Yes’ Narrated by Sabrina Mahfouz

Sexual consent has become one of the most contentious issues in recent years. Especially among young people, there is widespread confusion about what is involved in giving and getting consent, with recent events in the news suggesting we urgently need to re-examine this complex issue.

As April is Sexual Assault Awareness month, two videos on consent are being publicly launched as a vehicle to start informed, constructive conversations and remedy confusion about consent. It is hoped with clearer understanding, cases of sexual assault will be significantly reduced.

In 2013, the Office of the Children’s Commissioner found that “Hardly any young people understand about ‘getting’ consent.”

Since then the National Education Union and UK Feminista report found that 24% of female students had been subject to unwanted physical touching of a sexual nature and Revolt Sexual Assault & The Student Room’s 2018 study found that 62% of university students had experienced sexual violence. The overwhelming evidence points to the fact that for some people, consent is still very much a grey area.

To address this problem, creative artists and an academic have teamed up to create engaging videos that explain key points about consent in entertaining and informative ways.

The collaboration includes award winning poet and Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature, Sabrina Mahfouz, Cambridge University ethicist and expert on consent; Dr. Tom Dougherty and US animator Rachel Brain of Blue Seat Studios.

“Consent is a “Yes”, is an animated poem, written and narrated by Sabrina Mahfouz. Aimed at young people the poem uses humour to address key questions. 

What happens if someone says YES but only because they feel unable to say NO because of fear? What happens when alcohol is involved, signs and signals might not clear? And, how can we learn to read a person’s feelings?

Mahfouz said: “These videos, designed to be used as a tool to help teachers and educators start discussions about enthusiastic consent for young people of all genders, will hopefully help people of all ages have an open conversation about consent. As we have all seen, heard and read in recent news, consent is still not something regarded by many as essential for sexual contact in any form to happen. Anything that helps to make sure this is regarded as essential for everyone, no matter their age or gender, should be celebrated and shared widely.”

“In 2016 I spoke to over 1000 13-19-year-old girls and young women around the country for a play called Layla’s Room which toured UK schools with Theatre Centre. Wherever I went in the country, however different their ambitions, interests and politics – one thing was a disturbing constant. These girls and young women spoke of sexual harassment, objectification and assault as major occurrences in their lives. There was an overwhelming feeling that there was a lack of understanding about consent.”

‘Enthusiastic Consent’ is a 2.5 minute short, that playfully helps to erase grey areas and potential misunderstandings about what is and isn’t acceptable. The video aims to expand this conversation and find real workable solutions, not just for young people but for everyone. 

The script was designed by the animators, Blue Seat Studios – who are also responsible for viral sensation video ‘Tea and Consent’ – with guidance from the academic research of Cambridge philosopher, Tom Dougherty; an expert in the ethics of consent. 

Brian said “Sexual assault and harassment are all too prevalent.   Prevention is possible through changing societal norms so that people learn about, and practice, how to give and receive consent.  Videos can be a powerful tool for that education. 

“I always find it funny when some students roll their eyes at consent education because they think it’s all obvious,” said Dougherty.

“If it was obvious, then consent researchers like me would all be out of a job. Young people need to work out which ways of getting people’s consent are ok and which one’s aren’t.

We are really hoping that by making the videos public during sexual assault month, this will get young people talking about consent – with each other, at school and with their parents.”

‘Enthusiastic Consent’

This collaboration was funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council

Sabrina Mahfouz is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature and recipient of the 2018 King’s Alumni Arts & Culture Award for inspiring change in the industry.

Blue Seat Studios animated the “Tea and Consent” video that has attracted 50 million views worldwide. They have since animated many videos on consent and sexual violence awareness, including the Time’s Up video, produced by Rashida Jones and voiced by Donald Glover. Blue Seat Studios founder, Rachel Brian has a children’s book coming out in the UK and US in autumn – Consent for Kids – about bodily autonomy.

Tom Dougherty is a Lecturer at the University of Cambridge in the Faculty of Philosophy. He is an expert on the ethics of consent.

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