Rape in University

June 16th, 2011 § 0 comments

Julie Bindel has a peice on CiF about rape in university. Loging in and stuff on the Guardian site is a ballache for me for some reason so my response is here.

Leaving home to go to university is an exciting time. Often, the taste of freedom can be intoxicating. It can also be one of the most dangerous times in a woman’s life. Young women are particularly vulnerable to sexual assault. Studies have found that females aged 16-24 are at high risk of sexual violence and harassment. However, policy on violence against women during this and the previous administration has made no specific reference to students.

Why should there have been a specific reference to students? How/why are they more at risk than other women?

In 2010, a nationwide survey on female students’ experience of violence conducted by the National Union of Students (NUS), found that one in four respondents had experienced unwanted sexual behaviour. Hidden Marks, the first study of its kind, also found that one in seven women students had experienced a serious physical or sexual assault while at university or college, and over two thirds had experienced some kind of verbal or non-verbal harassment. This included groping, flashing and unwanted sexual comments. As one respondent said: “Almost every time me and my friends go out to a club you can guarantee that one of us will have some kind of violence or unwanted attention forced on us by drunk men.”

How does this compare with women in general or women in that age group that aren’t students? Are the figures higher or lower? Without a comparison that figure is meaningless, although even just one rape is one too many.

Unsurprisingly, alcohol features in the majority of the assaults and many instances of harassment. But we should be clear that whether the perpetrator, victim or (as in most cases) both are drunk, it is not the bottle of booze that commits the crime.

Exactly right. No excuses.

In the study, women who had been drinking were far more reluctant to report than others, for fear of not being believed. I can understand why; I recall the case in 2005 of a student who said she had been raped by a university security guard who was escorting her back to her halls of residence because she was too drunk to make the journey alone. The judge ordered his acquittal, saying that “drunken consent is still consent”.

Just as being drunk is no excuse for raping someone, you can’t withdraw consent once you’ve sobered up and blame it on the booze either.

Am I blaming the victim when I say that someone shouldn’t drink so much that they may do something that they regret?

We should learn from the way in which student sexual assault has been dealt with across the pond. UK academics Alison Phipps and Geraldine Smith, in a forthcoming paper, highlight several reasons why campus sexual assault gets far more attention in the US than it does here. First, women’s studies courses that can lead women into engagement with feminist activism are widespread, whereas in Europe such courses are on the decline. Second, there exists good, solid data on the prevalence of sexual assaults on US campuses, and journalists give the topic decent coverage. Finally, there is far more emphasis placed on the responsibility of the universities themselves to prevent such crimes.

Fair enough.

The turning point in the US was a notorious and tragic case in 1986, in which a female student was raped and murdered by a male fellow student. The late Jeanne Clery’s parents founded Security on Campus Inc, which embarked on a sustained programme of lobbying the federal government that led to the 1990 Clery Act. This act, among other things, requires that institutions collect statistics on campus crime and take steps to address and prevent it. Let us hope the UK does not have to face such a tragedy before universities take serious action.

Why leave it at universities? Why not make hospitals, leisure centres, workplaces do the same?

There are a number of simple things they could do immediately to make their female students safer. Most obviously, they need to have cross-institutional policies to tackle violence against women students – readers may be surprised to know that they don’t already. Campuses could also be made much safer by proper lighting and security in student residences, with bus routes can take female students as close as they can to their door.

I am surprised that ‘cross-institutional policies to tackle violence against women students’ don’t exist already. I do have one that fits the bill already though, and can be applied to anywhere not just universities – Report the rape to the police and give the victim whatever support they may need.

Proper lighting would be a help, just like proper street lighting in towns is, too.

By proper security, I assume Julie means that only students can get into halls of residence via a locked keycoded door and a security guard, which is fine uless it’s another student or security guard doing the attacking. In that case does ‘proper security’ mean female guards and CCTV?

How about a bus to take male students to their door, to help stop them getting beaten shitless by drunken thugs?

My friend Alice Vachss, a former sex crimes prosecutor who has done exemplary work in the US on campus sexual assault response, says that if she could change only one thing, it would be to increase the consequences for friends and allies of the sexual aggressor who harass, taunt and threaten women trying to come forward with a complaint:

“Despite all the beautiful work that’s been done here in the States, our campuses are still so rape tolerant that the most likely outcome for a campus sex crime victim is that she leaves school. Campuses may be the last true remaining communities. Sure we need improved policies but most fundamentally we need policy enforcement that changes that community culture.”

Cultural change is difficult to achieve. But if institutions are prepared to work with students’ unions, police and local women’s services, it may be possible to chip away at the culture in which sexual harassment is sadly part of a “normal” Friday night out.

Cultural change is the key here, whether it’s students or not, but that change needs to start before the kids get to uni.

Tagged , , ,

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

What's this?

You are currently reading Rape in University at Sim-O.