SRC-run sexual violence workshops are a welcome step, but alone they are not enough
When I was a first year moving into Murano Street Halls, I remember receiving an envelope with my flat keys and Wi-Fi password. What I wasn’t given, however, was a stern warning not to walk down the ‘rape alley’ at night on my own, or that I should steer clear of Kelvingrove Park. Instead, this warning came courtesy of my new flatmates; before that, I had no idea that ‘rape alley’ existed or that Kelvingrove Park was notoriously unsafe at night.
It could be argued that the University has an obligation to warn freshers, uncomfortable though it may be, that some areas around Glasgow still haven’t been made safe for people – especially women – to walk at night. Perhaps if these places were acknowledged as particularly dangerous by the University and not just by student folklore, pressure might mount to put procedures in place – such as night guards in these areas – to make these spaces safer.
A lot has changed since I was a fresher in 2014. The University is now in its second year of sexual violence prevention workshops, which grew out of the student-led “Let’s Talk” campaign as part of the University’s Gender Based Violence Strategy Group. The student led workshops focus on peer training, with the trainees going on to then train others, and so on. The workshops intend to teach students about how to prevent sexual violence from happening, and also to change attitudes and ideas surrounding the issue, the workshops also give a special focus on sexual violence within the LGBTQIA+ community.
Sexual violence, its causes and its ramifications are gaining more attention on UK campuses than ever before. Perhaps as a result, it has become something of a buzzword that is often thrown around during university election times. Although any dialogue surrounding sexual violence is a positive step, we can’t let the issue be reduced to a trendy buzzword that candidates seeking office use during an election cycle then conveniently push aside once elected without seeking any substantive action. For that reason, I want to pose a question: is enough done by Glasgow University to keep its students safe? If not, what more could be done?
When I was a fresher, I did not receive any formal workshop on how to stay safe, nor were there explicit lessons on consent. Of course, as students, we are not completely stupid or unable to foresee the consequences of our actions, but we have, for example, many international students at Glasgow who would not know which parts of the city are safe and, each year, an influx of first years likely in a strange city, full of new people. We also tend to focus our discussions around sexual violence on heterosexual men and women, often forgetting that sexual violence heavily affects LGBTQIA+ students as well. It’s also worth adding that, in a society where white male college students such as Brock Turner can face such light punishments for rape, a clearer and bolder stance by the University on what will happen to sexual predators would be welcome.
Of course, this isn’t to say that the University condones or protects sexual predators; however, perhaps more prominent efforts could be made to establish a zero-tolerance policy regarding sexual violence, especially during Freshers’ Week. Policies and safeguards may be in place, but they do little good if students aren’t made explicitly aware of them.
The SRC’s initiative on sexual violence workshops is a very welcome sign, and will hopefully address some of these issues. Hopefully, it will include everyone who may find themselves in a vulnerable position, and not only discuss the situations that might be considered “most common”. Still, this workshop is based upon voluntary participation, which entails an active effort to attend and participate. One could say that the act of attending itself requires a degree of consciousness on sexual violence, but the people who might benefit the most from these workshops may not think or want to attend initially. Usually, freshers are too busy drinking and making friends to find time for workshops. Awareness could be increased by, for example, a welcome email that raises the issue of sexual violence. Crucially, providing freshers with a rape alarm in their welcome pack would be a very welcome step.
There are many things that can be done to raise the profile of sexual violence and increase prevention awareness. The SRC’s workshop is one of them, but in my opinion, it is not enough. Sexual assault is one of the most traumatising things that can happen to anyone, and even if the perpetrator faces severe consequences, it cannot undo the pain inflicted. For that reason, please read this as a plea rather than a criticism – for awareness and support, and most importantly, action.