Societies, socials, and sexual assault: The student experience no-one talks about

3 Mins read

The overwhelming pressure to live “the best years of your life” at university is hard to achieve when a sexual violence epidemic sweeps across campuses.

During my first year at university, two of my friends were raped. I, among others, was groped and assaulted multiple times.

Most women I knew received unwanted attention and/or unsolicited images online. We all experienced sexual violence and subsequent trauma, but none of us got the justice or consideration we deserved.

I remember the moment my friend ran into me in the club, pale and shaking, “I think I was just raped.”

I didn’t know what to do – we were first years, just turned eighteen, scared and unaware– the first thing I thought of was the rape alarm lying in my flat that my friends and I had jokingly been given during the Freshers’ Fair, “just in case.”

My friend was sobbing, I was frantic, and no one had told us what to do in such situations. We found an authoritative-looking woman and my friend bravely told her what had happened.

Everything after that was a blur of nonchalant people in high-vis jackets asking my traumatised friend useless questions like, “How much have you been drinking,” and “Are you sure?”

Unfortunately, my friends and I are not anomalies; sexual violence is endemic within university culture. A high volume of alcohol, concentrated numbers of people, and hormone changes can all affect the pervasiveness of sexual offences at universities, however, none of this excuses nor negates its serious and damaging impacts.

Research has found that 62% of all students and recent graduates surveyed had experienced sexual violence, yet only 6% of them reported it. One of the reasons for this was due to victims not knowing how to report their experiences.

Most universities offer counselling services and a phone number to call in cases of assault, but it is rarely ever discussed in detail during induction sessions.

The most conspicuous action taken by universities to ‘prevent’ offences is the offer of a rape alarm, or an anti-drink-spiking gadget (both of which require the vulnerable party’s usage in order to protect themselves).

There is a distinct lack of education on the process to follow if something should happen, and there is even less done to prevent it from happening in the first place.

It was from desperation and desire to be heard on matters such as this that Revolt Sexual Assault was born.

In 2017 Hannah Price, a victim of sexual assault on campus, founded the national campaign which aims to “hand back the power and give a voice to student survivors of sexual violence.”

Price knew that others had been through similar traumatic experiences at university and recognised the need for a campaign highlighting the prevalence of sexual assault and its impacts. 

Revolt Sexual Assault is an online space in which survivors can tell their stories, read others’, and raise their voices in unison to demand action, urging universities to step up and provide the “consistent standard of care that all students are entitled to.”

Ultimately, Revolt wants every student to “experience an education free from the impacts of sexual violence, where students and bystanders feel comfortable speaking out about these issues.”

Revolt’s purpose is to highlight the problems happening on campus “so universities are compelled to offer more support for victims,” whether that is through counselling, creating safe spaces, or helping students during legal battles.

Revolt Sexual Assault uses Snapchat filters to allow survivors to tell their stories anonymously. By distorting their faces and/or voices, victims are given a platform on which to share their trauma and alert others of the need for action, whilst remaining safely unidentifiable.

Revolt Sexual Assault is the kind of place my friends and I would have benefitted from, yet I have only just heard of it. In fact, none of us had any idea who to report the instances of violence to within the university.

Universities do not do enough to ensure students feel confident to report sexual harassment and assault, and there are many improvements that could, and should, be made – the most obvious being a clear and safe way to report sexual violence on campus.

Revolt also believes it is crucial for everyone to receive extensive education about consent, sexual harassment, and sexual assault from a young age, and continue as they get older.

In this vein, there are glimmers of hope for future students: Kieran McCartan, Professor of Criminology at UWE Bristol, is the joint coordinator of a programme which aims to help redirect male students who have been reported for sexual harassment or misogyny.

It aims to encourage them to question themselves before their actions further harm others. However, Professor McCartan’s programme is one of few, and sexual violence is still raging across UK campuses with little interference or improvement from those in authority.

Of my two friends who were raped, one told the police, the other told the university, and neither were afforded justice. Both cases were dropped, the perpetrators moved on with their lives, and my friends were left to relive the harrowing memories every time they went out, were touched unexpectedly, or, God forbid, it happened again.

If universities listened to and actively engaged with campaigns such as Revolt Sexual Assault, we could begin the process of creating supportive, safer campuses.

Featured image by Markus Spiske via Unsplash

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