Consent and the Law

Senior School
21 May 21

On Wednesday, we welcomed parent Eleanor Laws QC and former SVPS parent Tom Rawstorne to the School to give a talk to the Sixth Form about consent and the Law. 

Eleanor Laws QC is a leader in the field of serious crime with particular expertise in murder and the gravest sexual offences. Tom Rawstorne is a national newspaper journalist who specialises in writing news and human-interest features. They delivered a fantastic, thought-provoking lecture to our Sixth Form students, highlighting the importance of consent and the legalities behind sexual offences.  

Joseph Gillett (Lower Sixth) reports on the event below. 

“On Wednesday afternoon, we had the privilege of listening to Eleanor Laws QC and Tom Rawstorne (Daily Mail) speaking on awareness around consent and the law. Throughout the talk, they presented a series of videos containing a hypothetical situation, which showed the investigation of sexual misconduct – from the allegation through to the prosecution. We were shown a video that portrayed a scenario involving a group of friends at a party, and as the night progressed it eventually ended with the alleged crime.  As this video came to an end, Eleanor Laws and Tom Rawstorne provided their insight into the whole scenario. Both came to the conclusion that alcohol was often a dominant catalyst for the violation of consent. Continuing on, the second video transported us to a courtroom. We were shocked when Eleanor and Tom both suggested that it would have taken on average, two-and-a-half years from an initial allegation of misconduct to the case being heard in court.

Additionally, it was explained that when the courtroom was finally reached, the accused victim and perpetrator were questioned again by the defence barrister to check their recollection of events. Initially, when asked, opinion throughout our year groups was divided due to the convincing arguments presented by the defence barrister, who listed pieces of evidence to suggest that the victim had encouraged a relationship with the accused perpetrator. As a collective, we were all very quick to make a judgement when it was one person’s word against another; yet clarification on who was at fault became clearer as we understood the true nature of consent. We learned that consent was fundamentally a mutual transaction.

One thing that I noticed after the presentation, was that there was a common misconception that consent requires only a verbal response; when in fact determining another person’s body language seemed far more effective in understanding the situation. Having acknowledged this information, it seemed blatantly obvious that the perpetrator of the scenario was guilty, as he hadn’t respected the body language presented by the victim.

You could tell that this talk had struck a chord with our year group, as it sparked a conversation between both sexes long after the presentation.”

Mr Farrell received some excellent feedback after the talk from our students, including the following:

“Firstly, we were surprised at what doesn’t count as evidence in court. Secondly, we were interested in the pupils’ divided opinions on the situation shown. Finally, we were very intrigued by the attitudes of the criminal, and how he didn’t even believe he was guilty. We all agreed it was a harrowing and eye-opening talk.”

“Everyone was very positive and said they found the talk extremely useful and informative – very encouraging.  One said they thought it was going to just be a sort of “you must get consent” lecture but found the discussion and format interesting.”

“After reading and hearing about the many anonymous testimonials on the Everyone’s Invited website that sparked a national discussion about ‘rape culture’ and sexual violence among teenagers in secondary education, I feel it is paramount we strive to create a safer environment by starting a conversation surrounding these issues. The engaging and interactive talk from Eleanor Laws and Tom Rawstorne has started this important discussion within the School. Despite it being such a heavy and emotionally charged topic, the talk made it clear that we cannot ignore these issues and must be aware of the significance of consent.”

Sincere thanks go to Eleanor and Tom for providing such a wonderful and important lecture to our students.