The prevalence of sexual violence and bullying is a disturbing feature of society in the US, Scotland and far beyond. One reason it persists is because we have failed to ensure respect and consent are fundamental notions in the education and upbringing of every child.
California, where the students performing my play The Interference are from, has pioneered proposals to ensure that consent and the basic idea of “yes means yes” are taught in high school. Scotland should consider similar measures.
This idea, however, can meet much resistance; from parents and schools unwilling to delve into a subject perceived as messy and complicated, but also from those who characterise issues of consent as obvious and “common sense".
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Yet, Rape Crisis youth workers tell me that while young people are very open to talking about the issue, they have little understanding of the law. Given the chance they appreciate the opportunity to explore these fundamental concepts in detail.
The hope is that the work already underway will grow a fully informed community of young people who make educated choices about relationships.
It will provide them with the confidence to resist peer pressure over sexual behaviour, and help overcome misconceptions caused by early exposure to online pornography.
Good work is taking place thanks to charities like Rape Crisis, some universities are trying hard to combat sexual violence and the Scottish Government seems to believe there is a need for action.
However, as I discovered during my research for The Interference and through discussions with Rape Crisis, we face immense challenges that can only be tackled by a concerted national effort.
Even a cursory look at rape conviction rates (125 in 2014/15, from 1,901 reports to the police), and the disproportionate number of “not proven” verdicts, peculiar to Scotland, shows there is a problem in our legal system that, despite years of discussion, has not been tackled. Even when presented with substantial evidence, juries can be reluctant to “ruin” a perpetrator’s life or career.
This is underpinned by a persistent media focus on a tiny number of false accusations, and the continuing proliferation of rape myths – myths that women are somehow “asking for it” because of their clothes, or because they had been drinking.
These are the beliefs that cause us to question a victim's validity if she appears calm on the witness stand, or to ask why she was walking there so late at night. Karen, our play’s survivor, is asked repeatedly: "Did you say no? How many times did you say no? Why didn't you put up a fight?"
The fact such arguments still feature in social conversation and legal argument is appalling.
We shouldn't just teach our kids about consent to protect them, but also because they will be the juries of the future. They will be the teachers, the parents, and the friends who need to understand the issues, and respond compassionately, should a victim ever disclose a sexual violation to them.
We also need to be honest. Carrying a rape alarm and staying in well-lit areas is not enough. You’re most likely to be raped or abused by someone you know.
We're asking the wrong questions. We need to ask why anyone would even consider sex with someone too drunk to respond, let alone consent? What happens when you laugh at a rape joke? What does it mean to text an intimate image of someone without their permission?
As we have seen in recent high profile cases, such as that of Brock Turner at Stanford University, matters of power, privilege and talent can obscure the route to justice. Here is another important question: why is the potential of a young male life valued more highly than that of the woman he raped behind a dumpster? Or as his victim put it in her powerful statement in court: “Assault is not an accident.”
Sex should be a positive experience and that demands informed mutual consent. Rape and sexual assault are about power, abuse and violence. Let us not allow ignorance to be an excuse.
Scottish-based Fringe First winner Lynda Radley and students from Pepperdine University, will present the world premiere of The Interference, her play about campus sexual violence, at the Edinburgh Fringe. At Wednesday's opening night there will be a collection for Rape Crisis Glasgow.