Navigating Consent Education on Campus


Omolola Sadik

It should not be surprising to know or learn that sexual assaults are much more common on campus than you actually think. The topic of consent, as well as sexual health on university campuses is complex and sensitive, but it is an important one to address. There is this societal stigma that makes it difficult to have open and honest conversations about these issues.

Students on campus are mostly at ages where they are exploring their identities, facing decisions that can have lifelong consequences, and engaging in new types of relationships, so this is a topic that cannot be avoided, as it is crucial to provide these students with the tools and resources they need to navigate these experiences in a safe and healthy way. This could include education on consent and healthy communication in relationships.

Consent Education.

In addition to protecting physical and mental health, students need to understand the importance of consent in all types of relationships. Consent education is a critical aspect of any sexual health discourse. What does consent mean, in this regard? Consent, in simple terms, means that all parties involved in an encounter must willingly and enthusiastically agree to engage in the activity. Consent must be clear, verbal, and ongoing. Silence or lack of resistance does not imply consent.

According to Nigeria’s Sexual Offences Act, Section 74, “consent involves the person offering agreement by choice while having the freedom and capacity to make that choice”. It is about ensuring that all parties involved are giving their informed agreement, this means that they are not being pressured or coerced, and that they are able to withdraw their consent at any time.

Statistics have shown that a significant number of sexual encounters on campuses happen without proper consent, leading to emotional trauma and legal consequences. A survey conducted at the University of Benin found that around 30% of female students and 8% of male students have experienced some form of sexual violence. The study also found that most students were unaware of campus resources for reporting and seeking help, highlighting the need for more education on this issue.

This is where consent education comes in. Intimacy without consent is a criminal offence, and offenders can face severe legal consequences. Consent education plays a major role in reducing assaults, violence, and harassment in a sane environment. Emphasis on “a sane environment” because a sane environment is one in which individuals respect the rights of others, and do not get aggravated or angry simply because someone refuses to give them something they want.

We need to make it normal to talk to people, let them know clearly what you want and what you do not want. Students need to be told that they can say “no” without being scared or feeling bad about it. In addition, if you’re told no by someone, you should know that no means no, regardless. If you do not want to be touched by someone, be it a handshake, a hug, an act of deeper intimacy, or whatever it might be, you have every right to say no! As a man or woman, you also have the responsibility to maturely respect that “no” and let the other party feel respected the way they want to. If you attempt to hug a fellow student and the person says no, consent education teaches that the next thing to do is not to forcefully touch the person or get offended or angry about being declined. Rather, you need to make the person feel protected and respected by honouring the person’s choice.

Consent education need to be talked about more on campus. An AFASite, who requested to be anonymous, spoke about how she has had numerous experiences with people who would attempt to hug her, even after she had buttressed the fact that she does not allow physical touches in their previous encounters.

Surely, she is not the only one with such experience, considering how consent is such a poorly observed/respected concept.
Another student narrates their own ordeal of being manipulated into a romantic relationship because she had not told the man a clear “no”, then he began to spread rumors that they were together.

Learning to say a clear “no” and to respect it is also important. This makes things easy for either party. Do not say, “What is the big deal? Is she not my friend? Is he not my coursemate? Why can’t I touch him or her?”

If anyone insists on touching you inappropriately, even after your stern refusal, be it a romantic partner, a friend, a lecturer, a family member, a colleague, then you should never hesitate to report such a person to the relevant authorities on campus. Make complaints to your HOD, your faculty Dean, Student Executive bodies, the clinics, social workers, etc.

In conclusion, it is paramount to reiterate that forcing a person to have physical contact with you is an assault.
It is also important to know that educating people about consent will gradually help us to have and to be responsible and mature students, and in extension, responsible citizens.

Consent education goes beyond reducing the incidence of non-consensual acts. It fosters a culture of respect and communication, creating a safer and more inclusive campus environment.

Cover photo credit: Marshall E-Learning

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