Editor-in-Chief Holly Jennings talks about the human rights crisis of women continually being sexually harassed in the context of university.
Content Warning: rape, sexual harassment, gender-based violence
We’ve got the vote, we aren’t limited to child-rearing and sandwich-making, we get an education, we’re allowed to wear trousers, the pay gap is closing, and we have Legally Blonde, WAP, and Malala. But if we’re going to be raped, sexually assaulted, and harassed on university campuses, then not listened to and have our motives questioned when we do speak about it, suddenly all that progress shatters.
For the academic year 19/20, 59% of students at the University of Glasgow identified as female. That same year, we had the Kelvingrove sexual assaults. In their important security message, the University stated: “Incidents like this are rare and student and staff safety is of the utmost importance to the University.” If 97% of young women have been sexually harassed, and if, as this month’s front page suggests, the University’s reporting system continues to fail, how can it be true that these incidents are rare or important to them? Whilst we can get an education here, it doesn’t feel safe for us to do.
But the language surrounding gender inequality ceases to be on how the University can do more, how men can do more, how we can all do more. It remains a list of checkboxes women must perform to stay alive. The secret is though, that there is no amount of key clenching, hair tying or University walking groups that is going to stop the University being a home to rapists, sexual harassers, or those implicit in the process. As we have seen recently with Sarah Everard, there is no more that women can do. I don’t want to be raped, but I’ve learned that no hoping or wishing can prevent that.
Writing this feels like beating a dead horse: countless opinion, news, and features pieces have shown that the procedures currently in place are not doing enough. But let me make crystal clear what can, should, and needs to be put in place: better prevention, awareness, and reporting.
I am hoping this week you have learned that you don’t need to have sexually assaulted someone to be complicit in a system that allows it to happen. You just have to talk over women in seminars, to laugh at women being afraid to go through Kelvingrove at night, to think women owe you something after you buy them a pint of fun, to be part of the problem. And you can’t be blamed for adopting a mentality that has been plastered on you for years – but you have to choose to unlearn it, and the University can play an important role in helping you to. By introducing mandatory gender-sensitivity programmes, for all genders, including those who identify as non-binary or trans, we can create opportunities for people to learn how to unlearn. But if you haven’t learned, you haven’t felt guilty, you’ve felt this is an overreaction, you “don’t understand how social media can make a difference”, you feel indifferent about this… then you are a part of the problem. And that problem creates that 97%.
So when that 97% happens, regardless of your own implication, there needs to be better support for those who have to deal with the actions of others. Whilst the University’s complaints procedure has come leaps and bounds over the last few years, particularly in adopting the “Report and Support” tool, we all know many of the union policies are like buckets with holes in them. The University needs to either put pressure on unions to reform their policies or make blanket university-wide policy. Policy introduction not only allows survivors the choice to pursue action against their assaulter but also shows a zero-tolerance policy towards sexual harassment of any kind. It shouldn’t be that you can’t get away with groping on the main quads but are safe in a union to do so.
I don’t think it’s radical to ask for safety for everyone on our campuses. Toilet door posters urging people to call out harassment or Happy International Women’s Day posts on University social media won’t cut it anymore. It’s time to treat the sexual harassment epidemic.