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Articles > Life March, 03, 2015

Protecting you from rape: not a priority for UK unis

Plamena Solakova
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The numerous parties throughout the school year bring to light the problem of sexual harassment on campus. ‘Rape’ and ‘assault’ are often heard more frequently than ‘plagiarism’ and ‘expulsion’ and colleges spend thousands of dollars on printing posters of ‘what is consent’ and how drinking may make it more difficult to react in a crisis situation.

It was in 2013 when female students were given more rights and protection on campus by President Obama with his re-authorization of the Violence Against Women Act. A year later, in September 2014, the President also announced a new awareness campaign to combat rape at colleges. Their message is that sexual harassment prevention is the responsibility of everyone, but mostly of men. “It’s On Us” aims to reduce the often-cited sad numbers of one in every five women being assaulted while at college.
Across the Pond, in the United Kingdom, meanwhile, the National Union of Students has just revealed a similar picture: from 2000 surveyed students in September 2014,

  • 37% of female and 12% of male respondents had experienced unwanted groping or touching;
  • 36% of women had experienced unwanted sexual comments about their body;
  • And close to 70% admitted they had seen unwanted sexual comments directed at other students.
  • Ever more shocking – of those who saw other students being harassed, nearly three quarters were not aware of the established reporting procedures at their university regarding sexual assaults.

The OpinionPanel Community’s own research found that one in three females reported some level of sexual assault at uni, a whopping 97% did not report sexual assault to their university and 44% of females believed their unis would do nothing in response.

Unlike President Obama, Prime Minister Cameron hasn’t found the time to address rape and assault on campus and neither have most of the universities in the country. One of the very few leading examples has been the University of Manchester which is organizing a brand new outreach and awareness campaign aimed at female as well as male students, and has so far encouraged over 5 000 undergraduates to sign a pledge to report harassment and prevent it wherever possible.

Many other institutions however, are still lagging behind in raising awareness on the issue and myself included, a London graduate, I have never been told who to contact in case of rape or what support would be available for me if it were to happen. This brings one to the question of why in the US, and especially in States like California, sexual assault on campus is taken very seriously and the rule is that ‘yes means yes’ only when it is conscious and ongoing throughout the entire act. While in other geographic areas, such as London, rape prevention and awareness rank at the lowest levels of educational institutions’ priorities.

Photo by Lucy Maude Ellis

Photo by Lucy Maude Ellis

It is a sad fact but a reality indeed. Some are lucky enough to go to colleges where assault is rather prioritized and in states where the laws protect the victims instead of providing loop holes for the perpetrators to get away with rape. And that is admirable. Others, just a few thousand miles away, still in the ‘developed’ Western world, did not/ will not have that luxury during their time at university. The UK has most certainly a lot to learn from its American friend on addressing this issue both on a national political and on local self-governance level – because we are all young adults who deserve to be empowered and protected. We as girls deserve freedom from abuse and a happy and healthy environment. One should hope institutions and men will join on this too.

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  1. Anon

    I think in terms of awareness universities need to take a different approach. At my current university the only awarness campaigns have mostly been along the lines of ‘Rape and sexual assault is bad, we take it very seriously’. Whilst I’m sure everyone will agree with the sentiment, I don’t think it’s very helpful. Everyone knows it’s wrong.

    My old university didn’t do so much of this but there was a fair amount of information around to support victims. We knew they took rape seriously because they acted every time a rape was reported (putting up extra lighting, running more safety buses taking students home after a night out etc.) In the 2 cases I remember where the rapist was a student, they were immediately expelled.

    I realise large universities can’t realistically run safety buses but I do think my current university could do with more lighting in places and more information to support those who’ve been attacked.

    I think universities also shouldn’t purely focus awareness on people getting raped at night by strangers whilst drunk. This isn’t to say that victims of this type of rape aren’t important, they are, it must be a traumatic experience, it’s just that other types of rape get overlooked. Last year I was raped by my now ex boyfriend. I’m possibly being naive but I can’t say with 100% certainty that he was aware that he raped me. He was very inexperienced but I think he also felt entitled to do this to me because I was his girlfriend.

    My point being is that universities (and schools) need to educate everyone about all types of rape and also about the law. They also need to make support easy to find because often when someone is attacked by someone they know, they end up completely alone with no one to talk to as they often share the same social/friend group as their rapist.

  2. Serena Cheyenne

    Just wanted to say that things aren’t always that simple, it’s not a “report and catch the bad guy” type of situation. It’s truly horrible what happens to sexually abused people and most of the time they’re ashamed of what happened and of themselves.
    Yes it’s true, consider both sides of the argument such as the situation and what the person was doing but otherwise what’s happened has happened and because a lot of women go unheard because they are women – the truth has to be stretched in their case.
    I’m not saying it’s right but that’s the truth of the matter…

  3. Bill

    I apologise Chloe, it was addressed to the OP. I should have made that clear (although context should have done that a little!).

    On the point of words-abuse. If anything I’m actually giving you advise here. One of the main reasons why very few take fema-warrior topics seriously, is because of what I said; the careless use of extreme words to portray a problem which is either not real or immeasurably worse-to-apocalyptic proportions, simply makes a writer of such look a little delusional and misinformed.

    My advise is simply to approach a problem such as rape and sexual abuse by looking at well-sourced facts and statistics, and base your argument on logic, and not screaming into someone’s face some hyperinflationary and unsuitable vocab because you have a personal connection to it. And when you do that, you will find all of what I have been trying to get across. Arguing for one side, concealing information, giving misleading information, hyperinflationary/shock-factor words, etc. etc… will do you no favours.

    That’s basically articles and investigations 101 guys…

  4. Bill

    Hi Chloe, thanks for your reply.

    On your confusion about decreasing significance, if you read-up on rape statistics you will find they have always been since records began on the decline. That partly justifies why I think writing such doomsday-istic articles quite unsuitable for their purpose.

    Can not you see how blaring “lots of girls get raped” consistently, but then, again consistently, and conveniently, missing out “- oh, and it’s a crime that has always been on the decline since records began”, is monumentally misleading and bias in every possible way you look at it.

    I agree with you that just because there are other problems in the world, some other problems don’t matter. We should aim for all and not the few.

    And to your, sadly again fem-centric, comment about girls getting ‘raped’ in clubs, this does not happen…at all. If you try *anything*, *at all*, like that in a club you’ll get instantly thrown-out by a bouncer. And if you are going to clubs without bouncers and security (which is difficult because they all do), you make a choice to surround yourself with dangerous people (because clubs without security *will* have lots of dodgy people in).

    If you go base jumping and seriously hurt yourself, do you complain to the building managers their buildings were too high?

    As for the short dialogue that tried to get you to think about when and how to use the phrase “sexual assault” correctly, I’ll try and be more direct; trying to fill your articles with these kind of “shock-factor” words will not help your cause. People in society are increasingly I believe becoming desensitized to these phrases *because* of their misuse by people like yourself. Decades ago these phrases meant something, they were taken very seriously and used carefully.

    I find there is a lot of irony that when trying to get some attention onto sexual abuse (although in a rather flawed way by being bias/fem-centric), one completely undermines themselves by abusing words.

    Try and approach this problem with a more neutral viewpoint. When your entire point hinges on females being abused more than men, don’t just ignore the existence of, well, men. When your entire point hinges on the fact that the problem is getting worse, don’t ignore the fact they are actually in reality, well, improving.

    A neutral viewpoint and so a non-fem-centric approach will certainly attract more attention than if you scream rape from the rooftops and ignore half the human population from the debate while doing so.

    • Chloe Scaling

      I never mentioned girls getting raped in clubs, I just said they might have sex after drinking.

      Just because rape statistics are declining (which you claim), I don’t think it makes the issue less important. It still happens to some people and it’s wrong.

      With regards to language we use, I’d say that, to a certain extent, we need to be dramatic about rape and sexual abuse in order to have a bigger impact because it’s an important issue.

      You still haven’t said what you believe to be “true rape”.

  5. Bill

    I agree with the general thrust of the article and the topic as a whole, and believe when occurring in it’s true form, rape is a dreadful crime.

    There are some problems with the article, intentional – I do not know. You cite percentages of males and females having unwanted touching/groping, however since it is widely known that males under-report *much* more than females, the percentages corrected are basically equal, so is an invalid point there.

    You cite other percentages pertaining to females, and not males, which implies concealment of information to mislead – having a very obvious goal. In future I would strongly advise to avoid “female-centrism” if you want to be taken seriously. Approach the matter as a neutral observer and not a “fema-warrior” next time.

    There are other problems about biasness, concealment and hyper-inflation of information, but I feel others will pick at these later…

    However, more generally, I have always had problems with the words used, and how they are used. More often these days the word “rape” is becoming synonymous with (mostly women, statistically), having a semi-regrettable night-before. In my honest opinion, *that*, is evasion of self-responsibility and guilt by offloading to that word, “rape”. I.e. Person 1: “I really got on that dance floor and dirty-danced with that guy!?”
    Person 2: “Urm, Yeah.”
    Person 1: “I got sexually assaulted.”

    I common theme I see happening more and more.

    That isn’t rape people, that is a night-out and getting intoxicated.

    Genuine rape is very rare, being a rare crime, and having been on a constant decrease since records began (see “rape statistics” everywhere). I call your kind of articles “doomsday-isms”, as they are all united in their act of blowing the smallest matters to society-ending almost apocalyptic proportions, when in fact usually the matters are of *decreasing* significance, such as the matters discussed in this article.

    I would like to state again however, true rape is a terrible crime, and when it actually happens causes massive emotional destruction to the people affected and possibly the people around them. I am all for decreasing true rape, and all for decreasing the use of rape as guilt-evasion.

    I look forward to improved and less-biased versions of this article you may write in the future, initiating a more intellectual debate.

    Thanks,

    Bill

    • Chloe

      Bill,

      While I recgnise that male students do get raped and sexually assaulted and are much less likely to report anything like that (because of the patriarchal nature of society, which says men should be strong and not admit to having been weak), I am worried about your complaints that Plamena’s post was “female-centric”. Of course, we have to empower men to report any unwanted sexual touching etc., but it’s still mainly an issue for females.

      Secondly, “going out and getting intoxicated” doesn’t mean that someone forcing someone else to have sex with them isn’t rape. You can’t say that all young women who go out and get drunk, then have sex are able to consent. You’re part of the victim-blaming culture so prominent in the discussion about sexual assault.

      Finally, I would sincerely like to know what “true rape” is. I thought true rape was sexual activity where consent was not given, either because one party did not want to have sex, or because one party was unable to give consent (e.g if they were a minor or asleep)?

      • Plamena Solakova

        Dear Chloe and Bill,

        Thank you both for your comments, I’m glad to see the article has got you thinking about the issue. However, I have to admit I was quite taken aback by Bill’s comments on ‘true’ rape, and especially the short dialogue he improvised on sexual assault. I find it rather disrespectful towards girls who are genuine and who ‘truly’ experience such behaviour in clubs, or elsewhere. Being drunk does not make it ok to stick your organ inside someone else’s body.
        As a reminder, one in FIVE girls WILL get raped during her college career, and one in SIXTEEN men may experience the same. While I do not argue rape can only be against women, we do remain by large the majority of victims. Hence, articles like this are still topical. And they do remind us that while there are many other serious global issues like underdevelopment and malnutrition, HIV/ AIDS, terrorism and whatever else ‘apocalypses’ out there in the world, violence against women still IS a massive problem, right here, in the ‘developed’ world. I don’t know how you judge its significance is ‘decreasing’, but would love to hear more.
        Thanks,
        Plamena