“Get her drunk first, yeah lads?”
That sounds like the kind of base and immature banter you would expect to hear in a pub or maybe a locker room. I heard it from my 3rd year Geography teacher as a 15-year-old, trying to learn about population pyramids. I am not trying to learn how to get a woman to sleep with you if she doesn’t want to, but that is the focus of today’s lesson. It makes me feel uncomfortable and powerless, but I’m not about to challenge the 30-year-old man who is supposed to be teaching me.
I’m working as a waitress in a popular restaurant. On busy nights, there’s no time for messing around but on slower days the kitchen staff are more concerned with harassing the waitresses than they are with preparing food. The harassment is in the form of explicit sexual comments and groping. The kitchen staff are in their thirties, and the youngest waitress is 17. All of the perpetrators are still employed there, even after complaints to the manager.
Neither of these experiences seemed particularly harmful to me when they happened. Looking back with what I know now, they appear to be part of the cancer that is rape culture. The Sexual Experiences Survey conducted by the Union of Students in Ireland paints a bleak picture of how rape culture has manifested itself in the lives of college students all across the country. 29% of females, 10% of males, and 28% of non-binary students reported non-consensual penetration by incapacitation, force, or threat of force during their time in college.
These statistics highlight the unpleasant truth that, even if you yourself have never experienced rape or sexual assault, there is a strong likelihood that you know somebody who has. Sexual violence is everywhere. The way we talk about it, therefore, needs to change. It cannot be the punchline of a joke told to a group of 15-year-olds; the people who engage in rape jokes are complicit in rape culture. It cannot be excused in the workplace; those who perpetrate sexual harassment in the workplace are complicit in rape culture. Anyone, in fact, who lets a rape joke, a grope or an inappropriate sexual comment go without challenging it, is complicit in rape culture.
So, we need to do better. Every UCD Fresher is familiarised with the consent tea video in their orientation week. The video is 2 minutes and 51 seconds long. We cannot expect an 18-year-old to unlearn what rape culture has taught them in that timeframe. In fact, the statistics would show so; the USI study found that just over half of first-year students reported experiencing sexual harassment since beginning college. This rose to 62% for second-year students, and 66% for undergraduate students in third year or higher. Clearly, a 3-minute video is futile in the prevention of sexual assault.
UCD have planned some efforts to improve the teaching on sexual assault; mandatory 90-minute workshops on the subject will be introduced to all incoming Freshers next year. This is a promising step, but the teaching needs to start earlier. I did not know the terms “rape”, “sexual assault” or “consent” at primary school age. All I knew about consent was to tell my parents if a strange adult touched me inappropriately – that was the extent of our teaching on the subject as children. We were not taught that jokes about sexual violence allow sexual violence to be swept under the rug. Nor were we taught that we should feel safe and comfortable in the workplace, that our superiors had no right to touch us inappropriately.
The #MeToo movement sparked a conversation surrounding sexual violence, with many brave people coming forward to tell their stories. The discussion has been reignited on Twitter in recent days after comedian Davey Reilly’s sexually abusive behaviour came to light. However, the onus should not be on the victims to recount their trauma in the dim hope that somebody will learn from it. All educational institutions and workplaces should be doing their utmost to teach people about consent as early on as possible. More work needs to be done within college societies, who interact closely with Freshers in their first weeks in college, to denounce the guilty parties. The rest of us should challenge rape culture whenever we see it. That means not laughing at rape jokes. It means calling out your sexually inappropriate coworkers and friends. Above all, it means believing victims – because the statistics speak for themselves, and we cannot let them rise.
Rosie Roberts Kuntz – Opinion Writer
For anyone affected by anything in this article, the following centres and organisations are available for support:
Dublin Rape Crisis Center – 1800 77 8888 / https://www.drcc.ie/
The UCD Student Union – UCD 24/7 Emergency Line: 01 716 7999