Imagine this. You’re 18. Recently, you’ve passed your A Levels and secured the grades you needed to move to uni. You’re away from home, probably quite far and probably for the first time in your life. You’re thrown into the deep end, but it’s exciting. You spend the first week making friends, having bad hangovers and realising that you’re way more independent than you realised. You’re having a fun time.
But then someone makes inappropriate advances to you that you don’t like. Maybe they say something that makes you feel uncomfortable. Maybe they touch you somewhere that isn’t appropriate. Maybe they grab you. Maybe they rape you. Where do you go? Who do you tell?
Sadly, although this seems extreme, it’s more common than you probably realise. 70% of women have experienced some sort of sexual assault or harassment at university in the UK, a new study has found, and 1 in 10 girls at university have been raped. That makes me think back to my first year flat which I shared with six other girls, living next door to another flat of seven girls. That statistic suggesting that at least one of us could have been raped. How horrific.
Student Hannah Price founded the Revolt campaign whilst studying at Bristol University. “I experienced everything from harassment and ‘casual’ groping to rape, none of which I reported – and I am not alone.” Starting off as a Snapchat campaign, Hannah asked women to send in their own experiences of harassment at university and it was found that only 10% of them reported it. This was because 56% of student’s felt that it wasn’t “important enough,” whilst 35% felt too ashamed and 25% didn’t even know who to turn to.
I understand this. University campus’ can be small places and in 57% of cases, the student knew their perpetrator. Chances are, they are course mates, flat mates, mates of your mates. You’re probably going to see them around daily and I can’t imagine how that must feel for victims. “Not wanting to make a fuss,” is a common reason why this goes unreported. One student wrote: “I figured out that I had the emotional strength to do one of two things: I could pursue a complaint against my rapist, or I could finish my degree.” After choosing to focus on her studies, she said “I think about it literally every day. I am still so angry.”
I’m a third year student at Manchester Metropolitan University and I don’t think I’ve ever seen or heard anything about “consent.” I briefly remember seeing one poster, but I think that was it. I did some digging of my campus’ policy. I know the uni offers counselling drop in sessions but they also enforce a zero tolerance policy on any kind of sexual harassment. As soon as I typed in “MMU consent” a web page came up called “Let’s be clear on consent,” extinguishing the difference between myths and facts about consent. For example, the myth that only women can be sexually assaulted. This made me wonder if this Is this the issue then? That students are unclear on what consent actually is?
It’s 2018. A very confusing and complicated time, and consent is one of the many issues that is discussed frequently. It can be unclear and it can be confusing. Especially as university is a time that gives a lot of people the freedom that they’ve never experienced before. Freedom to pull whoever they want. Freedom to have no adults telling them what’s right and wrong. Freedom to have that “flirty banter.” Freedom to go out drinking and constantly being surrounded by people your own age. Maybe that’s why it is such an issue at university. It doesn’t excuse it of course, but maybe everyone needs to be educated more.
I decided to make a survey. Students from Worcester, Northampton, Demonfort and other uni’s answered questions on their own experiences of sexual harassment at their uni’s. It was directed at both boys and girls and half the participants said that they have been sexually assaulted whilst studying. Half. That’s 50%. 1 in 2. Me or you.
None of the students said that they reported it and only 11% of the people said they would know where to turn to, to do so. I asked if sexual harassment is something that they witness regularly on nights out (Groping for example) and again, only 11% said they didn’t regularly witness it. I asked if anyone had seen action from the uni about it (e.g – someone getting suspended) and no one had.
My last question was “What does consent mean to you?” and everyone’s answers were pretty straightforward and pretty similar to one another, which curved my thinking that consent is something we don’t understand. One student answered with, “Consent isn’t clear cut. Lots of people use body language to convey yes, the problem is that people can lie about body language and that can be abuser or victim.” which I agree with.
There’s also the flipside of this story. The lines are blurred now between what’s acceptable and not. Is it acceptable to tap your friend on the bum? Is it acceptable to make jokes about sex? What about asking someone out who you like?
I’ve witnessed groping. I’ve witnessed inappropriate touching. I’ve witnessed having to say no firmly more than once to stop anything further and I’ve witnessed physically pushing someone off me. But I can’t be seen as an angel in this situation either. I’ve touched my boy mates on nights out and felt horrendous and embarrassed about it the morning after, not meaning to make them feel uncomfortable at all. I know it’s not okay. Its double standards and I feel like more than ever, although the blame is often put onto boys, girls can’t be excused either. I think that’s sometimes forgotten. But, the facts are facts. Women are being sexually harassed more than men. Hardly any of them are being reported. And it’s a huge issue at uni. One that we can’t bury our head in the sand about.
If you’re in need of help regarding this topic please go to: www.nhs.uk