More needs to be done this Halloween to support students who are most at risk of sexual assault.
Fear plays an important role in our lives, from our careers to our relationships, and it’s fun to take a day to personify this fear in the form of murky monsters and spooky dooky parties. This Halloween though, instead of thinking about ghosts and gory horror films, my mind will instead be preoccupied with a scarier part of this national holiday: the dangers that women face every year on this date.
Halloween is a time to dress up with your friends, go to parties, drink a bit too much, and enjoy the height of autumn. However, many women will be afraid of their own safety this Halloween; university sexual assault cases are higher this time of year, and some universities report higher assault cases on the day itself. Halloween costumes (usually ones that show more skin) are often used as an “excuse” for sexual assault, which we all know is complete bullshit: clothing cannot convey consent. In addition to the heavy alcohol consumption at most parties, predators everywhere will be looking for any chance to take advantage of women. A means of victim blaming is to dismiss sexual assault on Halloween with phrases like “what were you wearing?” and “how much did you have to drink?”. By placing the blame on women with such considerations, we feed into a pernicious, patriarchal discourse that transforms the night of Halloween into a permission slip for assault. Ghost and ghouls aside: this is much more terrifying.
“A means of victim blaming is to dismiss sexual assault on Halloween with phrases like ‘what were you wearing?’ and ‘how much did you have to drink?'”
While there have been “my costume is not my consent” protests around the world in recent years, this is not a topic that is talked about enough at our own university. Many people remain unaware of the heightened Halloween horrors that the statistics show. I haven’t seen any education on this subject or support services offered on campus leading up to Halloween. Where are the conversations about this? What resources will the University have on Halloween for people to use if they feel unsafe?
I remember Halloween in my first-year, vividly. A blur of dancing had been our intention; instead I remember being filled with anxiety and fear. My friend and I had meticulously constructed fairy costumes – originality is key! -, planning to have a fun night out at HIVE, the West End’s finest club. Our tipsiness got the better of us, and my friend realised they’d left their ID at home almost as soon as we’d arrived, resulting in a sad stumbling back in the direction of the flat. We got back to my flat and were sitting in the kitchen drinking cheap vodka when my phone rang; one of my friends called us in a frenzy. On her way to HIVE, dressed up for Halloween, she had been followed by an unknown man. Panicked, she asked if she could come over.
I realised that both my friend and I had been so naive on our own walk back. I remember thinking I’m so glad I wasn’t hurt on the way home, the realisation sinking in that, especially given our tipsy state, we were actually quite vulnerable. But even then, as much as we could have safeguarded ourselves more, we all know by now that even that’s not enough. But I was disappointed then, in my lack of concern for myself and my friend, that realisation suffocating the remaining naive freedom we had enjoyed in that walk home. I remembered feeling lucky that I wasn’t one of the many students who were assaulted that night. Telling this story a couple years later, I’m no longer disappointed in myself. I’m not lucky. No, I’m angry. I’m really angry.
“I’m no longer disappointed in myself. I’m not lucky. No, I’m angry. I’m really angry.”
Why is it considered lucky if a woman gets to keep control of her body autonomy? Why should I have to pick my costume based on what will be less likely to “get me assaulted”? Why, when we hear about the rise in sexual assault on Halloween, do we think “if only women would take more precautions, this wouldn’t happen”? The answer is one we have heard many times, but also one we are now desensitised to. The answer to these questions stems from the fact that we live in a patriarchal society where violence against women is ingrained everywhere, not excluding the upper echelons of the institution that is our university.
Although the University cannot inflict institutional change overnight, I firmly believe it can do more to keep women safe. They need to do more to protect their students at Halloween. More than 90% of people who are sexually assaulted know their attacker personally: most people who will be assaulted this upcoming Halloween will be harmed by someone they know. It will be the people they invite to their flat party, the people they ask to come along for a night out. As sad as it is, the reality is that students at our University will be assaulted by other students – the statistics show that this is much more likely than being attacked randomly in the street. This isn’t just a big problem for faceless unknowns in society to solve: it’s also a university problem. What can they do to help prevent this? They can educate their students.
We should be flooded with information on what consent is. What does it look like? What does it sound like? More importantly, though, we should be made aware of the importance of consent: what does it feel like to have your consent ignored? And, what’s going to happen if you assault someone? Punishment drives our behaviour, yet punishment around sexual assault is very loosely enforced. Because the blame for assault is placed on women, especially on Halloween, there is little to no punishment for assaulters. Like I said before, complete bullshit.
“Punishment drives our behaviour, yet punishment around sexual assault is very loosely enforced.”
Honestly, I’m angry and tired, and tired of being angry. This conversation is one that I’ve had a thousand times, and one that will continue to crop up in the media every time a woman is murdered. I sigh as I repeatedly ask: “When are we going to actually do something about this?”
Watch out for your friends this Halloween, and yeah, “be careful”. You shouldn’t have to be hypervigilant and on edge, but you do. You won’t be able to protect yourself against everything – like being spiked with an injection, the newest form of assault working its way across Scotland’s clubs – but you can do your best to watch out for your friends.
To those who will have to be extra careful this Halloween, I’m sorry that you won’t be able to enjoy your Halloween in the same way your male friends can. I hope that someday we won’t have to worry that our Halloween costume will be the reason we are harmed, or spend more time worrying about our safety than enjoying the festivities. I hope that someday we won’t have to worry about being harmed at all.