A 19-year-old university student from the UK has sparked an international conversation on whether “consent classes” should be mandatory because he claims he “doesn’t look like a rapist.”
After he was invited to a consent class – a growing initiative in universities in response to sexual assault on campus – Warwick University student George Lawlor fired back in a very opinionated (see: douchy) article in his university paper as to why he really didn’t need to waste his time on such a thing because he “didn’t have to be taught not to be a rapist.”
Apparently, the classes are “filled with people stating the obvious, thinking they’re saving the world,” according to the article’s sub-heading. Instead of doing any good himself (something he asks the “self-appointed teachers of consent” to do), Lawlor claims that the classes are a total waste of time for (white, privileged) academics like himself and was hugely offended by the invite to such a venture.
Like any self-respecting individual would, I found this to be a massive, painful, bitchy slap in the face. To be invited to such a waste of time was the biggest insult I’ve received in a good few years. It implies I have an insufficient understanding of what does and does not constitute consent and that’s incredibly hurtful. I can’t stress that enough.
As he outlines, not being a rapist “comes naturally” to him. While he acknowledges that tragic cases of sexual assault have occurred on university campuses, he says that the potential predators are not the ones who would ever voluntarily attend such a class in the first place. The ones who do, he says, “already know when it’s ok to shag someone,” and that they’d form “an echo chamber of people pointing out the obvious and others nodding along, thinking the whole time thinking that they’ve saved the world.” That’s his repetition of the word thinking, not ours. Clearly, he was doing a lot if it.
So, in other words, the classes will be full of other people like himself who “don’t look like rapists.”
The question I have to Lawlor then is, what does a rapist look like? Seriously, I’m curious. As we’ve seen countless times, rapists can be handsome, charming, well-dressed, educated, and well-liked.
Look at Paul Bernardo, a once good-looking, charming, preppy, and successful young man (who actually looks like he could be Lawlor’s brother). He didn’t “look like a rapist,” let alone a murderer, did he? Neither did 19-year-old Owen Labrie, a former student at the elite St. Paul’s School, who was found guilty this past summer of five counts in connection with the sexual assault of a fellow student at the boarding school, who was just 15-years-old at the time. In reading his story, complete with no shortage of murky areas and slippery slopes, it’s pretty damn evident that he could have used a class in consent himself. Don’t even get me started on Bill Cosby, the once gentle, twinkly-eyed famous father figure to millions of us.
Anyway, back to Lawlor…
While many people know it’s not right to rape someone, it doesn’t take a Warwick University student to know that, when it comes to matters of consent, it’s not as black and white as forceful sex or lack there of. (Lawlor’s insight knows no bounds; “Yes means yes, no means no. It’s really that simple.”)
As was highlighted by conversations sparked by the Jian Ghomeshi allegations, when it comes to things like hair-pulling, spanking, and BDSM during sex, there can be a scarily slippery slope if a dialogue is not had ahead of time. That slope is even slipperier when alcohol is added to the equation.
When it comes to Lawlor, it turns out that the online world seems divided in their support (or lack thereof) of him. Apparently, he’s not the only one who’s offended by an invite to a consent class. Perhaps the solution is to make consent classes mandatory as opposed to voluntary – for both sexes – but beginning in high school, or perhaps even earlier as a part of the overarching sex-ed curriculum.
In the meantime, it sounds to me that Lawlor is the one who needs to go to class – if not for consent, then at least for lessons in how not to be a bigoted, closed-minded child.
Here’s hoping no one says ‘yes’ to him in a long, long time.