'Entitled' attitudes over sex questioned

The idea that misunderstanding causes sexual assault is a myth - and ''entitled'' attitudes need to be tackled, a University of Otago sexual assault researcher says.

A further woman has recently come forward alleging she was raped while at Knox College.

Her claim follows a report in Critic Te Arohi student magazine which featured four women saying they were assaulted, raped or harassed.

While their claims have generated a debate around the culture at the college, university Te Whare Tawharau sexual assault centre academic director Melanie Beres said focusing on sexual assault at one or two institutions or colleges was a ''missed opportunity'' to have a wider conversation.

People developed views, including some ''entitled attitudes'', towards sex before they came to university.

''We need to start raising the bar,'' Dr Beres said.

Despite there being ''myths'' about miscommunication, four studies she had carried out in New Zealand and overseas into young people's attitudes to sexual consent suggested they could tell whether someone was consenting- even if the other person did not explicitly say anything.

She gathered the views of both heterosexual and queer people on the non-verbal cues their casual or long-term partners gave that indicated they wanted to have sex.

Tropes such as going home from the bar together were initially mentioned - but as the interview progressed the people would agree there were times when they had gone home from a bar with someone but had not had sex with them.

When asked how they could tell someone wanted to have sex, it was things such as kissing back that were mentioned.

When the other person displayed hesitation or discomfort, in the vast majority of cases the interview subjects said they would stop.

However, two of the 25 young heterosexual men she spoke to said they ''still backed off, then they tried again'' without talking to their partner. That was consistent with what women who had been sexually assaulted said - that there was ''consistent pressure'' being put on them.

Dr Beres said she had not interviewed any women who reported experiencing a similarly persistent approach - but that did not mean they were not out there.

''People arrive at university already with attitudes or behaviours . . . there needs to be a conversation in our schools.''

The current defence to rape or sexual violation was someone either consenting or the other party believing on reasonable grounds they were consenting, but behaviour that met that standard could still be ''harmful'', Dr Beres said.

The ideal standard society should be aiming for was ''enthusiastic consent''.

''We don't want things to be barely not criminal.''

elena.mcphee@odt.co.nz

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