Anyone who has ever been to university remembers fresher’s week.  The first real taste of freedom, alcohol and sex create a heady combination and the possibility of falling foul of the law regarding rape, sexual offences and other lesser offences.

Recently politicians issued strong statements regarding the so-called “Lad culture on campus” (The Times 8 September).

Business secretary Sajid Javid cites one National Union of Students survey that found that almost two thirds of female students had been assaulted either verbally or physically. The report argues he could just as easily have mentioned another NUS report, from 2010, that showed that one in seven women at university has suffered serious physical or sexual violence.

At this time of year many young students leave home for the first time and head to university. Attending one party after another, often with excessive alcohol intake, meaning problems can arise the “next morning”, as to whether someone did or did not consent to sex.

Indeed, just yesterday the DPP Alison Saunders has launched a social media campaign #ConsentIs encouraging people to talk about what sexual consent means to them. The CPS also released new guidelines earlier this year to explain when alleged rapists can be prosecuted - for example making it clear that acquiescence e.g. staying silent or using contraception does not mean someone has consented.

S74 of the Sexual Offences Act 2003 defines consent in the following way:

“a person consents if he agrees by choice, and has the freedom and capacity to make that choice”

The issue of consent remains an evidentially difficult concept in allegations of rape and sexual assault.  In a significant proportion of cases, the fact that sex or sexual contact took place is not in dispute. The central issue is often whether informed consent, from someone who had the freedom and capacity to consent had been given.

Being so drunk that you:

  • did not think about consent
  • didn’t know what you were doing
  • cannot remember whether consent was given
  • mistakenly believed consent was given

Cannot amount to a defence.

A successful defence requires the accused to show that they had a reasonable belief that consent was given. This “reasonable belief” is determined having regard to all the circumstances, including any steps A has taken to ascertain whether B consents.  Being too drunk to ask, notice or recall the precise circumstances under which consent was given inevitably leaves you vulnerable.

So what can you do to make sure everyone is safe?

  • Use your words.  Body language can only take you so far.  Have the conversation, find a way to vocalise what you are thinking, feeling and what it is you would like to do
  • Look and listen.  If there is no clear, unequivocal green light - just stop
  • Avoid consuming so much alcohol that you cannot recall what happened and in what sequence

If having read this you are still not sure what consent means in practice find more detail in our previous blog and a short video clip which might save your blushes and reputation.