The failure of any Clare freshers to attend a consent workshop was a recent source of controversyFacebook

Warning: This article contains content which some readers may find distressing.

In May Week of my first year at Cambridge I was raped. I was pinned down, against my will, and told that, despite my objections, I felt ready, and so “what else matters?” Like 90 per cent of other victims of sexual assault, I knew my attacker. I not only knew him, but continued to go out with him for over a year after the assault, and I love and trust him to this day.

It is common knowledge that for female UK university students, there is a one in three chance you will be sexually assaulted on campus. Let that sink in. A third of the women you know in this university have been, or will be, assaulted in their time here. And that does not even account for men and non-binary people. There is a two-sided implication of this: for people to be assaulted, others need to do the assaulting. With such a high proportion of students being victims of this, it is likely that we all know at least one person who has committed sexual assault, or who will go on to do so. 

There are undoubtedly assaulters who have malicious intent – those who think they are justified in actively exerting power over a vulnerable person. I believe, however, that part of the reason for such a high occurrence of university assault is the grey area we often ignore – the fact that ‘good’ people are capable of rape. 

My assaulter is a good person. He is clever, funny, and well-liked by my friends. He was an attentive and caring boyfriend. And yet, he raped me. On that night, in that moment, he prioritised his pleasure, at the expense of my pain. And let me tell you, it is an all-consuming, crushing pain, that lingers to this day. I can feel fine, and then read something, or hear a conversation, or be groped by a stranger in a club, and a feeling of worthlessness consumes me again. I feel guilty for receiving compliments on my appearance, and for enjoying sex. I feel ashamed in front of my parents, despite not having told them about my experience. In my darkest moments, the memory is there, telling me that I do not deserve a space in the world. 

I still struggle to reconcile that a person I knew to be wonderful and kind could have done something so terrible. How do you begin to tell your friends that the reason you keep crying is because the boyfriend they all like just raped you? How do you tell your father that the guy who stayed over in the holidays, the one that played with your younger brother and cooked dinner for you all, is also responsible for your worst memory of university? 

Even now I still come across that horrible corner of my mind trying to convince me that I was at fault. And I know that I am not alone in this. I have heard from victims who have dismissed their own incidents of sexual assault because the assaulter was not a 'nasty enough' person for them to classify it as rape. I have friends who have been assaulted, only to then be shunned by their friends because their assaulter is a popular person who 'couldn’t possibly' have done something so cruel. 

I am not here to speak on behalf of every victim. I may have chosen to forgive my rapist, but any way a victim reacts to their own assault is valid. I am not suggesting that all rapists are good people, and I am definitely not implying that sexual assault should be viewed with anything but the utmost severity. What I am trying to do is acknowledge that we all have the potential to assault, and hopefully by doing so, encourage us all to take responsibility for consent.

People become extremely defensive in matters of consent. Waves of undergraduates saying that they do not need consent workshops because they understand the difference between ‘yes’ and ‘no’ is not productive. There will be those who sexually assault with full knowledge of what they are doing, and on whom discussions of consent may make no difference.

But there will also be those who take advantage of a situation, maybe just the one time, maybe just ignoring the fact that their partner doesn’t seem as enthusiastic as usual. There will be those who kiss someone and immediately go to put their hands down their partner’s underwear, without checking that they are okay. There will be those who may be aware the morning after, weeks after, years after, that there was a situation they engaged in where they were not responsive enough to their partner’s feelings.  

As difficult as it is to own up to, there is nothing wrong with admitting that you have behaved badly in the past, if you use that awareness to improve yourself. Make consent a prerequisite for all your sexual activities. Take pleasure out of hearing your partner tell you what they want, and respond to any indications that they are not enjoying themselves.

And if someone tells you they have been assaulted, no matter who by, support them. If the rapist was a friend or someone you know, I promise you that the pain the victim is feeling is far greater than the awkwardness of working out how to address them when you see them in the corridor. We need to squash the myth that there is just one ‘type’ of rapist: rape is done by, and done to, the people we love.

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