Content Warning: This article contains references to sexual violence
“Rape her friends too”; “Rape the whole flat to teach them all a lesson”; “Sometimes it’s just fun to go wild and rape 100 girls”.
These come from an actual group chat created last academic year by eight students from Warwick University. The chat was reported to the University and five students were either expelled or suspended while the other three were allowed to come back to the University. However, as reported in September by The Tab, the University withdrew the suspensions and decided to let three more students come back to the University this year. Such backtracking on punishment is one of the reasons the lad culture flourishes on campuses and why so many victims of sexual assault or rape do not report the crime.
It is common for students to not be punished for their misconduct and the victims to be denied the help and justice they need (I mean, look at our own campus as of late). Three years ago, a documentary called The Hunting Ground was produced (ironically by The Weinstein Company) about a group of American students who started nation-wide action after their schools failed to respond to reports of sexual harassment and rape. The film kindled a variety of reactions – some people praised it for its initiative while others called it out for being a feminist propaganda, a witch hunt of the 21st century. However, by trying to silence the victims who speak out in the production, the point of the documentary only grows in power – that for anything to change, the victims have to make themselves heard.
Every year, hundreds of assailants and rapists go free without any punishment from the law enforcement whatsoever. Statistically, one in every five women has been a victim of rape but only 15% of the victims report the crime to the police. The reason for the rates being so low? Blaming or silencing the victims is usually the major one. There’s a number of myths about sexual harassment and rape that are used to trivialize them. Since many such cases take place at parties, the victim is usually blamed for getting drunk in the first place. Wearing an outfit that is too provocative or not saying “no” in “the right way” is also quite common. Furthermore, a lack of physical injuries makes it easier for universities and police to debunk the allegations as no injuries “means no evidence”.
For many young people, university is the place where they get the first chance to be independent, to make big and small decisions, like “What will I eat today?” or “Should I wash it with whites or colours?”. This is the place for having fun and facing challenges. But none of these challenges should ever be “how do I make sure that my rapist answers for what he did?”. Neither should they be “how do I force the University to respond to what happened to me and make it protect me from my assailant and from any possible attacks in the future?”
Although the tale of the Warwick students does not entail any actual physical abuse, this doesn’t mean that some form of harassment hasn’t been committed, that there was no possibility of it happening and that the students shouldn’t have been punished. As defined by the Equality Act 2010, harassment is defined as “unwanted conduct related to a relevant protected characteristic which has the purpose or effect of violating any individuals dignity”, and the characteristics are, amongst others “sex” and “race”. And according to the policy of the Warwick University, “Dignity and respect are explicitly included in the terms and conditions (…) each student agrees to abide”. Hence, by making those atrocious jokes about rape, the students breached the policy of the University, violated the dignity of the people mentioned in these jokes and furthermore, they promoted amongst each other the idea that women are to be objectified and raped.
Without executing any punishment, the universities allow the lad culture (or rape culture, as you wish) to prosper and grow. If no fear of repercussions is insisted, rape and sexual harassment will continue to be treated as a joke, something trivial or something that the victim should be ashamed of because she is a “slut”. The myths that the rape was the victim’s fault will continue, and so will the protection of the culprits.