By Neasa Gorrell
Recently, I was in a situation where, despite my refusal of consent, an individual continued to persist and make sexual advances towards me, although I had verbally said ‘No’ almost ten times before removing myself from the situation and going to my bedroom. I had no lock on my door. I was the only other person awake in the house.
Yet, saying ‘No’ and removing myself from this individual wasn’t enough of a refusal, this individual continued to try and coerce me into having sex with them. They even followed me to my bedroom door, stood outside cursing, and saying “This is what I came here for; I wouldn’t have come otherwise… what a waste of time.”
Listen up. This is for all the boys, girls, they’s and them’s, the straight, the gay, the anybody and any identity; you do not owe anybody sex. No one is entitled to sex from you. You have the right to say ‘No’. You have the right to be uncomfortable with unsolicited sexual advances, and you sure as hell have the right to stand up for yourself. You are not a sex object. You are so much more than just a body, never forget that.
Clearly, we as young Irish people need to have more of a discussion and awareness about sexual behaviours, misconduct, and consent. How is it that someone, who in their mid-twenties, didn’t take ‘no’ as an answer to their sexual advances the first, or second time, they asked? Why did this person didn’t understand how intimidating it is to follow someone to their room, continuing to ask for sex? Why did this person ignored my refusal? Why have I been in so many similar situations, and I’m only twenty-one?
As a young woman, I have already had my fair share of unwelcome, sometimes frightening, sexual advances. As a fourteen-year-old, I experienced my first sexual assault. I didn’t fully understand the situation, so I thought it was normal. Unfortunately, as a sixteen-year-old, I became aware of the realities of sex crimes, having been called as a witness to an assault on a friend of mine. I still recall the pain she went through. It is something I will never forget.
As an eighteen-year-old, I was working part-time when a middle-aged male customer became obsessive over me, following me around my workplace and watching me incessantly. Even though this behaviour is incredibly intimidating, for the longest time, my employers did nothing; I had to prove it was happening, which I did. Still, I was scared to fall asleep some nights from the fear that he had followed me home.
As a nineteen-year-old, I was spiked in a nightclub in Galway during my first rag-week. It was my first drink in the club. I stumbled to the bathroom before passing out in the stall for three hours. Not one of my friends had contacted me to see where I had gone. Again, in Galway, as a nineteen-year-old, I had a taxi driver tell me that there were other ways I could pay for the journey than just in cash. He suggested that I solicit myself.
As a twenty-year-old, I finally had the courage to leave a toxic and abusive relationship. I won’t play the victim card with this as we were both bad for each other and should have ended the relationship at the first sign of a red flag. Although I know I tried, by ignoring my gut, as I’m sure he did too, and enabling this relationship to continue, I cannot place the blame entirely on my partner. We should have known better, but sex education in school doesn’t tend to delve into things such as recognising an unhealthy relationship.
Thankfully, after my twenty-first birthday, I received ‘Active Consent’ training provided by the Students’ Union here at NUI Galway. Since then, I have been confident in my ability to give or refuse consent and recognise the warning signs in an individuals behaviour towards me. I understand the meaning of consent in its entirety, and this has empowered me as a female, and as a sexually active young person, to move forward knowing what is right and wrong when it comes to consent and sexual behaviours.
So, as a twenty-one-year-old, it was shocking and frightening to have my refusal of consent ignored and disregarded multiple times. Yet, I continued to say ‘No’, loud, and clear. I even made excuses to not hurt this person’s ego, yet they reacted with vulgar language. I removed myself from the proximity of this person and continued to say ‘No’. I wouldn’t have known how to voice my refusal of consent so sternly or how to react had it not been for the training I received.
Eventually, after belittling and objectifying me, this person I barely knew finally left me alone. Had I not taken ‘Active Consent’ training provided by the Students’ Union, I may not have been able to hold my ground as I did. I may not have been as confident to have continued to say ‘No’ and refuse the individual’s persistence. Because of situations like these, which none of us can foresee, all students and young people need to know and understand consent.
Take it from me, if you do not understand consent or sexual behaviours, the best thing to do is to research the topics. There are many resources offered online. Talk to someone you know and trust; this can be someone older than you with more experience and advice on hand. Reach out to your university’s services; there are nurses and councillors who will be happy to assist you. Be aware of the supports available to you with the Students’ Union at your university, and specifically for NUI Galway students, if you are offered ‘Active Consent’ training, make sure you go!