Consent Awareness

Content Warning

The following content includes sensitive topics around sexual harassment & violence, abuse and rape. If you feel that completing this training would be detrimental to your wellbeing, you can complete this form to opt-out of taking part and you will be marked as completing the course on e-Activities. If reading this material has caused you distress, you can contact England and Wales Rape Crisis (0808 802 9999). 

The role of a student leader and why we are talking about consent

As a committee member of a club, society or project (CSP) committee, you have an important role to play in creating a positive, safe and inclusive space for students in the Union, members of your club and public attendees at your events. Being in a position of leadership gives you power and responsibility, as your members will look up to you and follow your example. At Imperial College Union, we aim to create a positive culture of  consent for all Imperial students from all backgrounds – as such, it is up to all of us, particularly those of us in positions of leadership, to acquire a strong understanding of consent, lead by example, challenge poor behaviours and report any issues.

  • What is Consent?

    Understanding Consent is a skill that we all need to build. It’s an ongoing conversation we need to have to understand and respect one another’s boundaries and to support others.

    How consent is defined in the Law: A person consents “if they agree by choice and have the freedom and capacity to make that choice”

    Consent must be full, informed, continued, without duress and not when intoxicated1. Additionally,

    • not being asked,
    • saying nothing,
    • saying yes to something else,
    • being a relationship,
    • being married,
    • being passive 

    is not consent.2

  • Handling a Disclosure

    As a leader, you inspire trust with your members which means that if they are facing an issue of discrimination, harassment or violence within your student group, they may disclose this with you. A disclosure is when someone speaks to you about their experiences in a non-formal manner, and they can choose whether to take formal steps following this.

    As a committee member there are number steps you can follow listed below to help you handle the situation effectively listed below, but remember that you do not have to fix the situation disclosed to you; the Union is here to help. You can ask an individual not to disclose any more information to you and direct them to a professional in the Union Advice team.

    If you feel comfortable taking on a disclosure:

    Step 1: Listen

    Listen, believe and take the disclosure seriously. Reassure them that they are right to disclose the abuse and seek help and that your conversation is confidential (unless someone is at immediate risk of significant harm, in which case you will need to notify the Union immediately).

    Step 2: Advise

    Advise them to seek support by a formally reporting to either:

    – The Union by reporting the issue to the Advice or Activities Team via email or in person
    – They can use the Imperial College Report and Support Tool

    Let them know that nothing will be done without their consent, so they need not worry about repercussions of coming forward. They can choose the outcome they would like to see from their formal report (i.e., informal actions, formal disciplinary actions or police involvement).

    Step 3: Signpost

    You can signpost the students to the support services that are listed on this page below. A good place to direct them to in the first instance is a Sexual Assault Referral Centre. These Centres are run by the NHS and offer a range of services, including crisis care, medical and forensic examinations (regardless of whether they choose to report), emergency contraception and testing for STIs. They can also arrange access to an independent sexual assault advisor (ISVA), as well as referrals to mental health support and sexual violence support services. There are a number of locations across London, and these are available for everyone, regardless of gender, age, the type of incident, or when it happened.

    Step 4: Notify the Union & Self Care

    We advise that you ask for their consent to share information on the issue with the Union (even if anonymously), so we can be aware of issues arising, but also so that you may seek your own support if needed. We highly recommend you come and talk to someone in the Activities Team if you face an issue like this.

What is inappropriate behaviour?

Engaging in a sexual act without the person’s consent is a criminal offence and is considered sexual assault or rape. In an everyday context, consent involves the communication of our personal boundaries and the decision of our peers to respect them. 

In order to build a positive culture around consent, we need to acknowledge the impact that our actions can have on those around us. It is also on us as student leaders, if comfortable to call out and report inappropriate behaviour safely. Below is a non-exhaustive list of examples and definitions of non-consensual behaviour and sexual violence to look out for: 

  • Sexual Harrassment

    Sexual harassment is any unwanted behaviour of a sexual nature that makes you feel distressed, intimidated or humiliated. It can take lots of different forms, including:

    • Someone making sexually degrading comments or gestures
    • Your body being stared or leered at including wolf-whistling
    • Being subjected to sexual jokes or propositions
    • E-mails or text messages with sexual content
    • Physical behaviour, including unwelcome sexual advances and touching
    • Someone displaying sexually explicit pictures in your space or a shared space, like at university
    • Offers of rewards in return for sexual favours

    What the law says:

    This is an offence in Section 4A of the Public Order Act 19863. A person found guilty of this could face a maximum penalty of up to 6 months in prison and/or a fine not exceeding £5000.

  • Revenge pornography

    The term ‘revenge porn’ typically refers to sharing private sexual images of someone without their consent, with the intention of causing them distress.1  

    What the law says:

    This is an offence in the Criminal Justice and Courts Act 20154

    A person found guilty of this can face a maximum penalty of up to 2 years in prison. 

  • Upskirting

    The term ‘upskirting’ typically describes taking a sexually intrusive picture under a person’s clothing without their consent.

    What the law says:

    This is an offence in the Voyeurism (Offences) Act 20195

    A person found guilty of this can face a maximum penalty of up to 2 years in prison. 

  • Exposure

    It is a legal offence to expose your genitals if it is intended someone else will see them and this will cause alarm or distress.1 

    What the law says:

    This is an offence in the Sexual Offences Act 20036

    A person found guilty of this can face a maximum penalty of up to 2 years in prison. 

  • Rape

    Defined by the Sexual Offences Act 2003 as the non-consensual penetration of mouth, anus or vagina with a penis. 

    Important Note: There is a difference between a legal definition and emotional impact. Many people criticise the specific inclusion of penises in the definition of rape as cis-normative (failing to include or consider trans people). Rape can take many forms beyond this legal definition; it is on us to validate survivors and offer support. 

    What the law says:

    This is an offence in the Sexual Offences Act 20036

    A person found guilty of this can face a maximum penalty of life in prison. 


  • Sexual Assault and Indecent Assault

    Defined in the Sexual Offences Act 2003 as intentional, non-consensual, sexual touching. 

    What the law says:

    This is an offence in the Sexual Offences Act 20036

    A person found guilty of this can face a maximum penalty of up to 10 years in prison. 

  • Sexual Assault by Penetration

    Defined by the Sexual Offences Act 2003 as the penetration, with a part of their body or anything else, the vagina or anus of another person without that person’s consent. 

    What the law says:

    This is an offence in the Sexual Offences Act 20036

    A person found guilty of this can face a maximum penalty of life in prison. 

  • Spiking

    When someone puts alcohol or drugs into another person’s drink or their body without their knowledge and/or consent. It is not consent if someone consented to taking one type of drug but were instead given another. It is also not consent if they consented to drinking one type of alcohol but were instead given another. Or if they consented to a certain quantity of alcohol but were instead given more7

    What the law says:

    This is a legal offence under the Sexual Offences Act 20036

    A person found guilty if this can face a maximum penalty of up to 10 years in prison. 

Other issues to be aware of:

Although the following issues are not legal offences in the UK, it is important to be aware of them and of your own impact as a committee member on the spaces that you help create. The following issues describe behaviours that go against the College’s Values8 – in certain cases, they may also result in disciplinary action from the Union or the College.

  • Lad Culture

    This is a group or pack mentality residing in activities such as sport and heavy alcohol consumption and ‘banter’ which is misogynistic, queerphobic and ableist.9 The normalisation of such behaviours can result in students being less likely to come forward to report an incident of sexual misconduct. The term was originally coined by the National Union of Students and is acknowledged in the UUK’s Changing the Culture Report10, with a note of caution that the term ‘lad culture’ could create the impression that what was being referred to was trivial and not serious, or lead to an assumption that misogyny, racism and homophobia are specific to an alcohol/sporting culture when they are present across all cultures and demographics. 

  • Abuse of Power Dynamics

    As a CSP leader, it is crucial to be aware of the degree of power and influence, and the impact that this could have on those that are younger and/or more inexperienced than you. In some spaces, the term “sharking” refers to the act of older years actively seeking out younger students or freshers for romantic or sexual purposes due to their inexperience11. By nature of its intent, sharking is a practice that is predatory in nature, as it intentionally relies on a difference in age and experience between the pursuant and the target. 

Reporting & Supporting

If you feel comfortable to, we ask that our committee members take on the role of being an active bystander within your committee, CSP and community. You can find out how to be an active bystander by following our guidance in the committee support hub training section12

Whether you have chosen to be an active bystander or not, you always have the responsibility as a committee member to report the issues that you have noticed within you CSP. There are a number of ways you can do this: 

If someone needs support after being a victim of any of the above inappropriate behaviour, you can direct to the below for support: