Sexual violence is, statistically, one of the most under reported crimes in the UK. Universities are far from immune to it; sexual violence on campus is, in many ways, an untold tale. The university setting is a microcosm of society in which young people are living away from home, and independently, for the first time in their lives. This creates a devouring cyclical culture of late nights, heavy drinking, and the never-ending attempt to catch up on missed seminars.
One in five students will experience some form of sexual harassment during their first week of term alone.
Many would agree with the notion that one’s time at university is the ‘best years of your life’, but for some, this could not be further from the truth. The National Union of Students have noted the growth of a “rape-culture” on campuses, and their findings have shed light on the alarming reality that one in five students will experience some form of sexual harassment during their first week of term alone.
As a young female student, I cannot count the amount of times I have been heckled at on the street. Some regard this as a compliment; others find it degrading and misogynistic. Personally, I do not think cat-calling and wolf-whistling pose a serious threat, but what I do have a problem with is being groped and fondled in dark clubs without my consent. What is the most unjust trait of this phenomenon is the seemingly unaccountable nature of the people violating my personal space and body in such a way. Sadly, one in three women experience this at university, whereas there are no such findings for men. For such high and disproportionate figures of sexual violence to exist in universities in 21st century is completely unacceptable.
I attend the University of York, which was recently in the news for a very controversial matter concerning sexual education. Talks regarding consent, rape, the definition of sexual assault and information on how to report these crimes, were made compulsory for all freshers joining in 2016. This initiative was seemingly a victory for equality and a promising step in the right direction. However, just over a quarter of students at the first ever talk, staged a walk out in protest of being ‘patronised’, with one student stating that “if students need lessons in how to say yes or no then they should not be at university”.
It is time to stop blaming the victim. We need to take a stand in each and every university, in every home, in every workplace and as a whole society.
Victim blaming in crimes such as sexual violence and domestic abuse often take precedent over holding the perpetrator accountable. Sadly, what this student fails to understand is that these talks are not for the victim to learn how to say yes or no, but for the perpetrator to understand that sexual assault and rape are not matters to be taken lightly, and that, however simple it may seem, ‘yes means yes’ and ‘no means no’. In addition to this, the imperative was taken to illustrate that such violations will be reported and dealt with effectively and appropriately. The protests over these talks and the ignorant comments that accompanied the only give more evidence of exactly why we need sexual consent classes. It is time to stop blaming the victim. We need to take a stand in each and every university, in every home, in every workplace and as a whole society.
Our approach must, however, be something for all to participate in. It is easy to generalise sexual violence on campus as taking place against women more often than against men. Statistically this may be the case, and there is existing discussion between active members of most student union societies in combatting this gendered crime. However, it is easy to forget that sexual violence is a crime also committed against men, and that they face the same harsh struggle of coming to terms with their experiences and finding a voice to be heard, often only to be met with disbelief, critique and assumptions.
As a feminist, I believe in equality, and I condemn anyone who misuses the gendered nature of sexual violence and domestic abuse to completely exclude another sex from the discussion. By involving everyone, regardless of what they identify as, we can begin to achieve a common narrative wherein we can educate people, break social norms and create a safe atmosphere in universities across the United Kingdom.
Our aim is to empower victims of sexual violence so that they feel safe enough to make a disclosure, to know that they have nothing to feel ashamed about, nothing to fear, to know that they can take appropriate action through their University and local police force, and to make perpetrators acknowledge the abhorrent nature of their actions and the accountability they will face as a result.
UK says no more to sexual violence. Lets start now.
About the author: My name is Molly Hyndman-Cunningham and I am a Student Ambassador for UK SAYS NO MORE. I attend the University of York and am reading Law. I am truly passionate about and dedicated to eliminating sexual violence and domestic abuse in the UK. Sexual violence and Domestic abuse are indiscriminate and can affect anyone. There is no denying that these are gendered crimes, however I am heavily focused upon engaging everyone in a discussion to educate and help others to identify the signs and indicators. Together we can end sexual violence and domestic abuse in the UK.