Credit: GG Deputy Photography and Illustrations Manager Dorota Dziki (@drawing_dorota)

Safety fears as students call to ‘end rape culture’ on campus

By Chloe Waterhouse and Lucy Dunn

The SRC and rector candidates strive to address institutional issues as 91% of students feel the University could do more.

Content warning: sexual assault, rape, gender-based violence

Student safety on campus should be one of the University of Glasgow’s top priorities. Yet, as revealed in a recent survey of 126 students by The Glasgow Guardian, 91.3% of students felt the University could do more to protect its population against gender-based violence. 

After receiving a huge quantity of responses, we initiated constructive discussions with the Students’ Representative Council (SRC) and this year’s rector candidates. Now, we urge the University to act on our following recommendations, to do more to protect its students.

The “sexual harassment epidemic” has continued even throughout Covid-19. Glasgow has had an increasingly incessant number of calls from students to actively “end rape culture”, with The Glasgow Guardian‘s most recent coverage available here. As Bethany Woodhead stated in her editorial last year: “Abusers aren’t always dark figures down alleyways; many walk right beside us on campus, and some are on the university payroll.”

We implore the University to implement fundamental changes: we are no longer accepting surface-level performativity. Analysing our survey findings, we have compiled a list of the most essential elements to change. 

A more accessible reporting system

Reporting procedures are currently not visible, accessible or effective enough. Whilst tools exist, like the University’s “Report and Support” system, and the Safe Zone app, there appears to be mixed awareness of the measures already in place. Students have commented on the need for “better and safer channels for reporting” and “a more approachable and transparent system”. 

One student placed emphasis on providing new undergraduate students with clear, accessible information about the support that is already available from the University, ensuring they are aware of its existence and where to find it. Another agreed, suggesting there should exist “a clear step-by-step guide on how to report; one for halls, unions and campus”. 

It is relatively easy to introduce an online reporting system, to create groups and workshops and events to discuss sexual violence, and to effectively give off the impression that a lot of work is being done. Though looking past that, we find that the system still doesn’t function as a protective space for everyone, the reporting tool is barely known about and the procedure that follows is hardly understood. As a result, there continue to be a whole host of people dismissed, discouraged, and disadvantaged. Rector candidate, The Honourable Lady Rae, agrees, believing that it is “vital that the University has adequate processes in place to allow students to report instances of sexual violence without fear of facing negative consequences”. 

We demand an easy, clear, and centralised reporting tool, used by all unions alongside the University, accompanied by a transparent follow-up process so we are aware of what will happen once we make a complaint. The Glasgow Guardian endorses recommendations from both students and rector candidates to ensure Moodle is updated accordingly: the reporting tool should be easily accessible both from the MyGlasgow homepage and Moodle platform. Already, only 7% of students report cases of sexual assault to their universities; complex processes and daunting procedures risk jeopardising that number further. 

Mandatory lessons on sexual and gender-based violence

A survey response that filled our answer forms was education. One student highlighted that this should be the University’s forte – and yet mandatory classes regarding gender-based violence are astoundingly lacking. As a result, false beliefs regarding what constitutes sexual assault have become rampant, with a 2018 study published by the End Violence Against Women Coalition finding that a third of people in Britain believe “it isn’t usually rape” if a woman is pressured into having sex without physical violence. Not only has a lacking understanding of basic definitions surrounding sexual assault been flagged up, but belief in survivor experiences appears lacking too. One student articulated the sad reality: “Almost all of my male friends doubt experiences – I think they could be helped though, through education, to understand.”

Rector candidate John Nicholson proposes mandatory Moodle courses in Freshers’ Week; although we believe these classes should extend to include any student enrolling into the student body and repeated year on year. He states: “Part of the solution to this problem lies in education, so it is essential that the University makes this a priority going forward. I know how long this has been a problem for students. It is utterly unacceptable that the University has not taken effective action against this problem yet.” 

A precedent has been set by the University of St Andrews, who recently introduced a compulsory orientation module to be completed online before arriving in the upcoming academic year. However, we want to go one step further: to propose students attend live discussions around these issues, alongside a compulsory online course, implemented annually so education can be reinforced. 

Rector candidate Junaid Ashraf made the point that staff training needs to be focused on: “During my event ‘Sexual Violence on Campus’, I consulted with students; there needs to be a cultural attitude change, as well as an overhaul of the reporting system, further training for advisors and improved emotional support for students.”

Further staff training is essential: students surveyed told us that “some lecturers have made comments about women that have been very uncomfortable and misogynistic.” Comments also surfaced regarding the security at Hive, externally contracted by the University: “At the GUU [Glasgow University Union], I don’t feel safe, and I do not trust the bouncers.” We advocate for training for all staff on how to both handle reports of sexual assaults by students and support them emotionally. 

Freshers are some of the youngest and most vulnerable at the University and survey respondents reiterated how misogynistic culture becomes amplified in halls. Another pointed out: “In Freshers’ Week, one of the things handed out was free condoms; but alongside that should be leaflets on assault and consent. I don’t think we should be promoting safe sex without ensuring all students fully understand what consent is, beyond ‘no means no’.”

Similarly, discussions around sexual and gender-based violence should not only encompass male and female students. Regarding trans inclusivity, one student said: “The University campus is not only unsafe for cis women but for gender diverse people. Gender-based violence is only talked about in the case of cis women, but as a trans and nonbinary person my experiences are often left out of the conversation completely.” It is imperative that gender-diverse experiences are included in these discussions, as a 2016 Scottish Trans Alliance report found 35% of trans and non-binary respondents had experienced sexual harassment because of their non-binary identity.

Security and lighting

Unacceptable levels of security on campus was a prevailing cause of concern. Observations from one student regarding University accommodation described that student halls will typically have “one or two security guards on shift”; guards only patrol the streets “for a few minutes every three hours”; and it takes security around “10 minutes” to arrive when called. The student continued to say that the level of protection these security guards confer at present appears minimal, and more should be offered; further suggestions include the introduction of regular security patrols on popular walking routes, such as Kelvin Way, during the night. 

Former SRC President, Scott Kirby, talked to The Glasgow Guardian about the work they accomplished in 2019-20 to address sexual assault and gender-based violence. In response to complaints about poor lighting around campus, the SRC conducted direct conversations with both MSP’s and Glasgow City Council. Kirby states: “We were told that the lighting standards on Kelvin Way were ‘satisfactory’ and ‘consistent with lighting standards’. 

“Regarding Kelvingrove Park, we were told that there was no chance of lighting being implemented at night times as it would be disruptive to wildlife, but I refuse to believe a solution doesn’t exist.” Unfortunately, this work by the SRC was halted due to the pandemic but has now resumed and they have recently raised the issue with Glasgow City Council. 

Our appeal

Despite new measures being implemented in previous years, and the University stating that it is “committed to fostering an environment where mutual respect and dignity is experienced”, The Glasgow Guardian survey, backed up by all three rector candidates and with support from the SRC, emphasises that there remains a long way to go. Our manifesto of changes is both pragmatic and feasible, and we appeal to the University: listen to your students.

If you would like to speak to either Chloe or Lucy about the above issues, please get in touch via [email protected].  


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