The Untold Story: Sexual Violence against LGBT People

By Jade Correa

Disclaimer: This article is by no means intended to derail or dismiss discussion of sexual violence perpetrated by men against women; it is merely intended to shed light on another form of sexual violence.  Some cisnormative language is used when discussing the form of sexual violence that is usually addressed, i.e. cisgender male perpetrators and cisgender female victims.

In discourse surrounding sexual violence, the narrative often places heterosexual men as the perpetrators and heterosexual women as the victims. While this discourse is entirely valid, it is too often the case that the disproportionate sexual violence experienced by LGBT people is silenced and left out of the conversation – the NUS Hidden Marks survey, for example, which has been instrumental in highlighting sexual violence against women on campus, made no attempt to investigate LGBT students’ experiences specifically.  Modern feminist discourse often proclaims an awareness of sexual violence against LGBT people, but it is rarely talked about in any depth outside of specific LGBT spaces.  This can be detrimental for LGBT survivors of sexual violence, as it is difficult for them to access the help they need – it’s quite telling that when writing this article, I found it a challenge to put together a list of resources and helplines that were specifically for LGBT survivors, as so few seem to exist.

We can begin by looking at some statistics to give an idea of the scope of this problem. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) survey on intimate partner and sexual violence in the US:

  • 44% of lesbians and 61% of bisexual women have experienced rape, physical violence, or stalking by an intimate partner, compared to 35% of heterosexual women;
  • 26% of gay men and 37% of bisexual men have experienced rape, physical violence, or stalking by an intimate partner, compared to 29% of heterosexual men;
  • 46 percent of bisexual women have been raped (nearly half of whom between the ages of 11 and 17 at the time), compared to 17 percent of heterosexual women and 13 percent of lesbians;
  • 22 percent of bisexual women have been raped by an intimate partner, compared to 9 percent of heterosexual women;
  • 40 percent of gay men and 47 percent of bisexual men have experienced sexual violence other than rape, compared to 21 percent of heterosexual men.

Furthermore, it is estimated by US-based research that 64% of transgender people have experienced sexual assault in their lifetime.  Violence and discrimination against transgender people is heavily disproportionate even within the LGBT community.  Transgender people experience discrimination and erasure to such an extent that while we know that they experience higher rates of sexual violence, there is still very little information on the subject and a lot more to be done in terms of research and support.
On top of the prevalence of sexual violence against LGBT people, the stigma that LGBT people still experience in today’s society means that we are less likely to seek help from the police, hospitals, shelters, or rape crisis centres due to fear of discrimination, or in some cases, even further violence.

Why are LGBT people at a greater risk of sexual violence?
To put it simply, LGBT people are at a higher risk of most things – poverty, mental illness, and physical violence being just a few – which puts us in a vulnerable position regarding sexual assault. As is often discussed in relation to sexual violence perpetrated by men against women, sexual violence is about expressing power, domination, and control over the victim, not sexual attraction.  It is, as the term denotes, an act of violence; bearing this in mind, it’s easy to see how general discrimination against LGBT people can manifest this way.  Undoubtedly, at least some portion of sexual violence against LGBT people can be classed as overt hate crime, but the underlying reasons are often more complex than that.
With regards to the much higher rates of sexual violence among bisexual and transgender individuals, it is often the case that bisexual and transgender identities are hypersexualised – the content of porn sites boasting videos of “bisexual babes” and “tr*nnies” being only one manifestation of this.  Hypersexualisation of LGBT people then causes the kind of objectification that leads to sexual violence.
Another cause of sexual violence specifically against LGBT people is the phenomenon of corrective rape, in which the perpetrator attempts to “turn” the victim heterosexual, or reinforce the perceived heterosexual norm.  This has been reported in recent news in South Africa, usually against lesbian women.  Once again, the sexual orientation of the victim has a unique impact on the perpetration of violence.

The statistics and causes surrounding anti-LGBT sexual violence can paint a bleak picture, but my purpose with this article isn’t fearmongering or shock tactics. I firmly believe that we need to take into account the reasons for disproportionate sexual violence against LGBT people, and work towards lessening social stigma in order to prevent this violence.  Sexual violence is becoming more and more of a hot topic nowadays, with plenty of high-profile names proclaiming their feminist status and beginning to address how widespread sexual assault really is.  I believe that with this momentum, we need to bring LGBT people into the conversation – not to derail, but to include, and to work towards a world in which no one has to suffer the trauma of sexual violence.

Resources for LGBT survivors of sexual assault:

International projects:
http://www.pandys.org/lgbtsurvivors.html
http://www.survivorproject.org/

UK helplines:
http://www.galop.org.uk/  (020 7704 2040) – support for LGBT survivors of sexual violence
http://www.brokenrainbow.org.uk/ (0300 999 5428 or 0800 999 5428) – support for LGBT survivors of domestic abuse

My thoughts on The Tab article ‘A girl falsely accused me of rape and it almost ruined my life’

By Emily Whiteside

Last week, an absent-minded scroll of my news feed revealed that one of my Facebook friends had ‘liked’ a Tab article with the headline ‘A girl falsely accused me of rape and it almost ruined my life’.
The noise of exasperation I made in response, which sounded something like nnnnnggghhh, was so loud that my boyfriend, on tea-making duty in the kitchen, rushed back to the living room to ask what was wrong.
We all know that The Tab is full of shit – it is like Klute in its ability to be simultaneously loved and hated by Durham students. Sometimes I embrace it – after all, in the midst of a heavy procrastination session, what is more comforting than a guide to the five stages of a dissertation breakdown?  But I feel that The Tab has reached a new low of ‘journalism’ through this ‘article’.

Everyone has the right to tell their story, of course, but this article is depressingly, unapologetically one sided. I hope this blog post fills in the other side of the story. However, because I’m responding to this specific article, a lot of the statements I make below are very heteronormative, and I recognise that in general, sexual violence encompasses a much broader spectrum of individuals than a male perpetrator and female victim.

The whole ‘article’ serves to constantly reinforce an all-too-common myth: that it is extremely common for women to falsely accuse men of rape. This is despite estimates that put false rape allegations at around 2%, and despite the fact that statistically, a man is more likely to be raped than to be falsely accused of rape. People seize upon this kind of article, and they read it thinking ‘God! Look at how this poor man’s life has been ruined by an awful, manipulative woman! The phenomenon is sweeping the land! It’s happening everywhere! No innocent man is safe!’ Later, when they see a story about rape in the news, they may think ‘God, that poor man who’s been accused of rape’ before they think ‘God, the poor individual who has been raped’. When we empathise with the perpetrator before the survivor, we begin to victim-blame, to doubt survivors’ stories, to question motives and in doing so we contribute to a culture of silence and stigma that surrounds the survivors of sexual assault.

It’s especially upsetting seeing another woman jump on the patriarchal bandwagon. Nick’s fiancée Megan’s belief that women cry rape when they ‘wake up the next morning and regret it’ is based on the misconception that women are capricious, manipulative, malicious. But we know from numerous studies that the problem is not false reports but underreporting. Rape Crisis England and Wales estimates that 15% of those who experience sexual violence choose to report to the police. This is echoed by the 2010 NUS Hidden Marks survey found that amongst women students who had experienced serious sexual assault, only 4% reported the incident to their institution and only 10% reported it to the police.

While I have sympathy for what Nick has gone through, I also think his experience needs to be put in perspective. He seems to feel that the measures the police and university took when dealing with the accusation were excessive, even draconian. No, getting locked in a cell and being interviewed for two hours doesn’t sound fun, but I firmly believe it’s the most appropriate action when someone has been accused of such a serious crime.
I also think the university response to the accusation sounds proportionate and surprisingly reassuring – Durham, take note! I’m in total support of requiring the perpetrator to change accommodation either to minimise any further risk to the student population or prevent contact between perpetrator and victim. I’m similarly impressed by Manchester University’s policy that, had Nick been found guilty, he wouldn’t be allowed to continue studying there: rapists represent a very real threat to the student population and shouldn’t be allowed to endanger any student ever again. I can’t really pass judgement on his not being allowed to “go certain places and do certain things”, mostly because of the extreme vagueness. But I’m not convinced that Nick was owed any kind of apology for the way he was treated, apart from for an unfortunate admin error.

Nick’s frustration with the lengthy and inefficient process is one shared by many survivors – a two and a half year trial is only slightly longer than average. If Nick’s story stirs some sympathy with you, then I entreat you to walk in a survivor’s shoes through a criminal justice system that is often stacked against you. Survivors have to recount a deeply distressing event to complete strangers, and reliving this memory can lead to secondary trauma. In addition, they face brutal and personal cross-examination that casts doubt over their character and their story – as though it were them on trial. It’s little wonder that many survivors choose not to pursue their case in court. The statistics aren’t promising for cases that do go to trial: last year’s Crown Prosecution Service report into violence against women and girls showed that in 2015, the conviction rate for rape cases fell by 3% to 57%.

My sympathy for Nick is somewhat tested by his sweeping, uncritical and unthinking statements. He insists that he was ‘basically under house arrest for three years’…but was able to have a job, start at a new university, holiday in France and go to gigs. He wasn’t allowed to go to clubs – but imagine, as a survivor, not being able to go to a club because you get panic attacks in big crowds and you see every man who looks in your direction as a threat. Nick had to do everything with his dad – imagine depending on a parent not because of a police order, but because you are suffering from depression or anxiety after your attack. Nick has been diagnosed with Post-traumatic Stress Disorder – almost one third of rape survivors suffer from Rape-related PTSD (RR-PTSD). Nick went to France to ‘get away from it all’ – survivors can’t escape so easily from a memory that may stay with them for the rest of their lives. Finally, Megan’s claim that ‘the victims [are] getting all the support, and the falsely accused are getting nothing’ just doesn’t ring true when the majority of women in the UK don’t have access to a Rape Crisis centre.

As a society, we are obsessed by the notion that men are constantly being falsely accused of rape, sexual assault, even sexual harassment and we find it almost impossible to believe that women are telling the truth. Just look at the backlash against those brave enough to speak up against Jian Ghomeshi, Bill Cosby, Louis Richardson, James Dean. When I worked at The Rape Crisis Cape Town Trust last summer, the Director told me that in 20 years as a counsellor at the organisation, she had seen just two women ever lie about being raped. Both were 16 year old schoolgirls forced to report an early consensual sexual encounter as rape by overprotective mothers.

I think we should stop worrying so much about the tiny possibility of a man’s life being ‘almost ruined’ and worry about more about the countless perpetrators who walk free every day. I think we should start thinking a little more about the women who have felt as though their lives falling apart after being raped, about the women who have never spoken out for fear of being shamed and doubted. As a society, I think we need to re-examine our priorities.

 

The Material Consequences of a Campus Rape

By Olivia Gillespie

You might think that, as horrible and painful as a rape may be, it only lasts for one night. This couldn’t be further from the truth. Of course, we all know that a rape of any kind, at any place will have terrible, long-lasting effects on the psychological well-being of the victim which will inevitably have a detrimental impact on their social life, their ability to trust others, and on their relationships with loved ones. However, if an individual is raped or sexually violated on campus, there is a risk that their professional lives, as well as their future education, could take a drastic hit.

In Michaelmas 2015 I attended a talk by two of the founders of End Rape on Campus, Annie E. Clark and Andrea Pino, in Castle’s Great Hall and found myself completely taken aback when I learned of the extent to which a rape can disturb a victim’s education and future career prospects. Clark and Pino explained that they used Title IX to challenge US universities to handle claims of sexual violence responsibly and with respect for the victim. Title IX, one of the Education Amendments to the US Constitution in 1972, states that ‘No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving federal financial assistance’; the two co-founders of EROC explained that student victims of campus rape are at a huge risk of dropping out of their course and also argued that universities who allow this to happen are violating this Amendment and therefore breaking US Law.

The two campaigners and sexual-violence survivors then enlightened us of the terrifying consequences for victims of campus rape: they reminded us that if a rape victim drops out of their university or college course, it is likely that they’ll never return to higher education and therefore will be unable to develop their professional career, making them significantly more economically disadvantaged because of the sexual violence they suffered.

Fortunately, in our society and media we are seeing increasing coverage of incidents of sexual violence and more conversations on the subject. We always hear about the psychological and physical damage caused by a rape, but we are rarely told about the economic implications that a rape can have on a victim which are life-long, and could potentially lead to impoverishment.

Although Title IX does not apply to us here in the UK, there is a lot to be learned from this approach to combating sexual violence on campus and holding universities to account. We need to realise that rape, as well as having a terribly detrimental effect on the mental, emotional and physical health of a victim, could also deny them of their right to education and cast them into a life of inequality, and possibly even poverty. No one deserves to have their education and professional prospects taken away from them and universities have a duty to their students to ensure that they are able to thrive in their education in security, and that means dealing with sexual violence claims quickly and efficiently, respecting victims, and providing them with the appropriate support. What’s more, we need to continue having these conversations in the media and in society, to show our solidarity with victims of sexual violence and to help them to feel comfortable to continue their education and to ask for the support they need from their university and their peers.

I want to feel proud of my university

 By Anonymous

I want to feel proud of my university in its initiation of a Sexual Violence Task Force. This is a step which no other university in the UK has taken, and it preceded by several months the setting up of a national taskforce by the UK government. Who would have thought it – Durham, our quaint old institution, leading the way and pioneering change in the way that universities respond to sexual violence. It demonstrates a recognition that this is a major issue, and a recognition that serious change is needed in how the university responds to it. So it is certainly an important and positive step that Durham has taken.

So why is the university not bigging itself up about this? Speak to students beyond those who take an active interest in this issue and you will find that many do not know that the Task Force exists at all. This is hardly surprising, when we look at the efforts (or lack of) the university has made to inform people about its existence. There are a whole host of things it could be doing with the hefty resources at its disposal to make its own student body aware of the Task Force, explain why it has been set up, why it is so important, and encouraging students to get involved in helping to shape the recommendations that it will make. For example, the Task Force has organised several consultation events, so why is the university not throwing all its weight behind them, ensuring they are comprehensively publicised, and getting as many people along as possible?

The Task Force’s webpage is tucked away in a corner of the university’s website – a brief mention of it has recently been added to the ‘student safety’ pages, but that is the only visible link to it that I can find, and sexual violence is simply not mentioned anywhere else on the site. There was a brief article in the Palatinate about the initiation of the Task Force, but that has been about it. I know that getting information out to students is a challenge, and life would be a lot easier if everyone carefully read each line of their weekly ‘Dialogue – Signposts’ e-mail, but with the overload of information we all receive every day, we all know a lot of people don’t do that. Sometimes, if you consider an issue to be of particular importance, you need to recognise that that some things take priority, and make the extra effort to make sure that the message is received as far and wide as possible. Unless, of course, the university is still reluctant to bring attention to the fact that sexual violence is a major issue for students at Durham (as it is at every university)? Or isn’t actually that keen to hear what students have to say on the matter, beyond perhaps the student ‘establishment’ in terms of the students’ union and college common rooms? It is interesting, for example, that It Happens Here has not been asked to participate in the Task Force or any of its working groups, despite having campaigned against sexual violence and delivered numerous workshops on consent and sexual violence on campus in the last few years.

Furthermore, the way in which the university has engaged in discussion around sexual violence and its response to it has all too often been characterised by defensiveness, including at some of the Task Force’s ‘listening events’. If Durham is going to improve how it deals with sexual violence then it surely needs to recognise that – along with every institution in the country – it has got a lot of things wrong to date, and that it needs to listen and learn from the people who study and work at the university, from those who campaign tirelessly around sexual violence, and from survivors. This kind of defensiveness, and the seeming reluctance to make the  conversation about sexual violence ‘too public’, suggests that the university may still be operating on the basis that it is more worried about protecting its reputation and its image than it is about supporting and protecting its students. Which is of course a ridiculous mistake, because what could be more important to your reputation than the safety and wellbeing of those who study or work at your institution? It is also a worrying sign, because wasn’t the Task Force set up to address things like the fact that sexual violence has been hidden, ignored and dismissed for far too long?

Another thing that concerns me is how, on many occasions when we talk about Durham’s response to sexual violence, we inadvertently build in excuses for the university to do as little as possible right from the outset, because of ‘economic constraints’ for example. I don’t think it’s ‘unrealistic’ or ‘naive’ to expect an institution like Durham, with the resources at its disposal, to invest whatever is necessary to ensure that it is putting a zero tolerance approach to sexual violence into practice, from compulsory consent workshops and staff training to ensuring high quality support is available for survivors both within and outside of the university – and making sure that there is strong overarching leadership on all these issues right from the top. Indeed, surely we should demand nothing less. What’s more, I understand the need for the Task Force to consult and gather views and information, but why has it seemingly not actually done anything since it formed last June? Why is the university not doing things right now to improve its response? For example, would it really be so difficult to immediately introduce clear and easy to find signposting information to support services for survivors, on the university’s webpages and in its materials and buildings? Its timidity also suggests that the university continues to fail to recognise the sheer prevalence of sexual violence, as everyday acts experienced by women in particular, that form part of a continuum of violence and abuse against women and girls, which are enabled and excused by a wider rape culture and sexism on campus.

The point is, Durham did not establish this Task Force because it suddenly, benevolently realised that sexual violence is something which it should probably be addressing. It did so because of the ongoing pressure that has been placed on it by students, staff and the wider community, demanding action. The question is, is the Task Force a public relations exercise to give the impression that the university is ‘doing something about this’, or is it really going to lead to serious, significant change? It is up to each of us, students and staff, to continue to put as much pressure on the university as we can to make sure it’s the latter.

Of course, in an ideal world we would have leadership at the national level from the government on this, but I won’t be holding my breath – so far little has come out of the aforementioned Universities UK taskforce, and if the government is unwilling to consider making sex and relationship education in schools compulsory, I don’t have much faith that they will be leading the fight to tackle sexual violence on campus anytime soon. Besides, this issue is too urgent to wait – the university has a responsibility to take action and to do so now. From support for survivors to prevention and awareness raising programmes, from robust, clear policies and sanctions to comprehensive training for staff, Durham needs to implement deep-rooted, far-reaching changes across the institution if it is serious about tackling sexual violence. Let’s make sure that that happens!

On Hogan Howe and presumption of belief

By Ellen Finch

I don’t pretend to know a lot about law, about the reporting system, or about the inner workings of the police force. But when I read in the Guardian a couple of weeks ago that the policy of presumption of belief was being challenged, I couldn’t help but be angry.

In the training I’ve had and the talks I’ve attended since becoming part of It Happens Here, one of the most important things people stress is that you should always believe victims of sexual abuse. Because so much abuse gets swept under the carpet, and because ours is a culture of victim blaming and willful ignorance, it is so important to show that you believe what somebody tells you. That act of showing belief could be the catalyst to a victim building the confidence to report their assault, if they wish to, or to seek help. And even if the ‘presumption of belief’ policy is not as strong or as coherent a policy as we might hope it to be (see this link for a better explanation), it is a positive start to a journey towards a more respectful treatment of victims of sexual violence in such professions.

So when I read about Metropolitan police officer Sir Hogan-Howe’s claim in the newspaper, I was initially shocked. The idea went against everything I had been taught since I first started learning about sexual violence. Then I started thinking about the possible thought processes behind the suggestion. Wondering whether this had stemmed from false rape and abuse accusations, I started looking into figures.

I already knew that a very, very small proportion of rape accusations are false. A 2005 Home Office survey claimed that the percentage is 3%, and the numbers don’t appear to have changed much since then. Some sources believe that the number is somewhere closer to 2%. I considered the logic of basing a policy on such a small number, in comparison to the number of potential claimants who might be deterred by a change in policy. To me, the logic just wasn’t there.

Looking further into Home Office reports, I decided to see how many reports went on police record, looking in particular at rape claims. A 2013 Home Office study estimated a three-year average somewhere between 60,000 and 95,000 of people who experience rape every year. Somewhere between 16% and 26% of those estimated rapes end up on police records, or 15,670. Such a low number made me wonder why so few of these crimes were being reported. The report cited that a popular reason was that many victims ‘didn’t think the police could do much to help’. That got me thinking. If you’re already unsure of what the police could do to help you in such a situation, would it make things worse to know that the presumption of belief they once held as policy was to be lifted? Is this more or less likely to make potential victims report the crimes? Is this the kind of culture we want to create within the reporting system, in reaction to the very small number of cases that turn out to be false?

Of course, I understand that there are a minority of people who falsely accuse, and that the result of that causes a great deal of pain for many people involved in the process. The fact that this minority receives so much attention from the media, however, means that there is a risk of skewing our policies in their favour. I also fully understand that people want more than just to be believed. Full investigations conducted rigorously and with care are incredibly important not just in a legal sense, but in showing a complainant that their accusation is being taken seriously. However, the presumption of belief is a critical starting point for a culture that legitimises victims rather than silencing them.

I hope that by using statistics, I don’t come across like I’m reducing the topic to numbers. I have experienced the process of deciding whether or not to report rape, and that’s one of the reasons I was so interested in the topic. It just didn’t make sense to me to risk discouraging people from reporting sexual violence by removing the presumption of truth policy for the less than 5% minority of people who falsely accuse. It would be really interesting, for the sake of my own personal curiosity more than anything else, to hear other people’s thoughts on this: it’s a sensitive topic with scope for a myriad of opinions, and I did hope that Hogan-Howe’s suggestion would raise more voices, initiate more discussion, than it has. For me, I can only hope that the policy is not reversed, because for the short time it has been in place it has given me a glimmer of hope that the police force and the judicial system were finally starting to align with what I believe are really important principles in the discussion of sexual violence.

 

Why consent workshops should be part of every college Freshers’ Week

By Lewis Martins, Van Mildert JCR President

I’m a bit bored of the ‘consent workshop’ backlash of recent months, and so I am grateful for It Happens Here for allowing me to put together a few quick thoughts on the issue; especially within the context of Freshers’ Week and the experience of new university students.

When planning this year’s Freshers’ Week, it became abundantly clear to me as Van Mildert JCR President, the Senior Freshers’ Rep, and the Welfare Officer that there was a serious gap in the welcome we were providing as a College. New students were briefed on all manner of things – college fire regulations, mental health services, protection against theft, the environment. Yet any mention of sexual violence – and what we can do as a community to fight it – was almost non-existent. A side note to other more ‘worthwhile’ precautions. Whilst not actively perpetuating the problem, this lack of attention made it seem unimportant and irrelevant to new students, relegating it to the nasty, unspoken reality it can often become.

Similarly, whilst our Fresher Reps were coached on active listening – a fantastic life skill, particularly for Freshers’ Week – there was little on the important role we can play with regard to creating zero tolerance for sexual violence, nor how to deal with a disclosure of sexual violence: critical knowledge for someone in a position of care.

Including It Happens Here in our Freshers’ Week was, therefore, an obvious and easy choice to make. Having seen the effort they put into raising awareness of sexual violence at Durham, it was very important for us to show how seriously we take the issue at Van Mildert.

The IHH Frep training workshop was eye-opening and empowered our team to utilise their positions of responsibility to create a safe atmosphere at Mildert, opening an important dialogue on sexual violence on campus that they engaged with really positively. It encouraged all members of the team, regardless of gender, to facilitate a consent-led (yet sex-positive) environment that new students could appreciate and grow into.

On a similar note, I have heard nothing but praise for the IHH talk on consent during Freshers’ Week; Freshers were incredibly receptive to such a significant topic and many commented that they felt better educated on a subject that hadn’t been properly addressed at school. No longer swept under the carpet, it is now discussed at length by new students to the extent that many, if not all, are able to call out inappropriate sexual conduct or instances of sexual violence themselves, well past Freshers’ Week itself. I know for a fact that it has contributed to a zero-tolerance culture in college that will make all students feel safer and better supported.

That’s why I cannot understand this unnecessary criticism of consent workshops. They exist not only for educational and informative purposes, but to shed light on a topic oft-deemed uncomfortable or taboo. They let us discuss openly what consent means: a discussion that we must ensure becomes ingrained in our culture.

If a university or college doesn’t mention sexual violence in the first week of a new student’s academic career, when will they mention it? If a precedent of zero tolerance isn’t set early on, when will it ever be set? If we are not seen to be treating it as a serious issue in Freshers’ Week, then how can we claim to truly look out for every aspect of our students’ wellbeing?

If these consent workshops and talks made even one survivor feel safer and more supported; empowered even one frep to promote a more positive, more respectful atmosphere; stopped even one person from tolerating rape jokes; educated even one fresher on the myths around sexual violence, then it was all worth it. But I personally believe they have done all this and more.

#16Days – 16 Ways Men Need to Stand Against Sexual Violence

By Stephen Burrell

Men have a responsibility to stop sexual violence. Yet for many of us, it may seem like something which has little relevance to our lives – we are taught by society that sexual violence is not something for men to care about or bother ourselves with. However, the truth is we should be the ones who care about it most of all – first and foremost because in the vast majority of cases sexual violence is perpetrated by men. So if you think that all forms of sexual violence are unacceptable, that is not enough. This is not just a series of isolated incidents being perpetrated by a small number of pathological men – it is something which is pervasive throughout society, including at university, and it is enabled by the cultures we create with one another. To stop sexual violence then, we each need to play a part in transforming those cultures and society as a whole.

So how can individual men go about doing this? When Annie Clark and Andrea Pino from End Rape on Campus spoke at Durham a few weeks ago, they powerfully described how ‘everyday activism’ is needed to fight sexual violence. In tribute to the 16 Days of Activism which It Happens Here is engaging in, here are 16 examples of everyday activism which we as men need to be engaging in if we are going to tackle sexual violence and its causes.

  1. Be aware of your own behaviour and how it impacts upon others.

It is tempting to disassociate ourselves from those ‘other’ men who commit rape. But this prevents us from critically examining our own behaviour and reflecting on the oppressive or harmful impacts it may have upon others, and how it may link to the wider cultural legitimisation of sexual violence. Sexual violence is a continuum, with each act reinforcing one another – for example, catcalling or objectifying women may seem relatively innocuous compared to rape, but think about how these different acts connect with and support one another. As men we need to carefully analyse how things we do may make women and others feel uncomfortable, unwelcome or unequal, and how we can go about changing that behaviour.

  1. Help make spaces you inhabit inclusive for everyone.

Something which we as men can often be unaware of is how we dominate space and how society says that it is acceptable for us to do so. For example, think of a bar – how often do men dominate these spaces, through our bodies, our voices, our actions? How might that make other people using that space feel? It is therefore important to be mindful of how, consciously or not, we might be exerting dominance in different environments, why we feel the need to do that, and how we can behave differently to make them more inclusive and welcoming for everyone. Violence and abuse are the ultimate acts of dominance, and power and control is at the core of sexual violence – as well as more subtle acts of domination.

  1. Challenge your peers.

You might be completely against sexual violence, but nothing will change unless we challenge the perspectives and actions of others too. Staying silent about the words and deeds of our peers is one of the main ways in which we as men can be complicit in sexual violence and its social sanctioning. We therefore have a duty to speak out and challenge the behaviour of other men, whether they seem to be making someone uncomfortable, or dominating space, or objectifying women for example. This could also mean intervening as a bystander to prevent an act of sexual violence being perpetrated, or a situation developing where it could take place. This can be tough, and sometimes it may not be safe to intervene (in which case, call the police). But in many cases, if you speak up you might be surprised about how many people support you, whilst it is through staying silent and doing nothing that sexual violence is perpetuated.

  1. Shut down rape myths and victim-blaming.

Have you ever noticed that so many of the victim-blaming ideas that are propagated around sexual violence carry pretty negative connotations about men – as if men’s behaviour is somehow uncontrollable? Men who use sexual violence against women choose to do so, and the only ones responsible for acts of sexual violence are those who perpetrate them. It is up to us as men more than anyone to make that clear, and to challenge our society’s obsession with the behaviour of victims, and its implication that men simply can’t help but commit sexual violence unless we police women’s behaviour in various ways.

  1. Join Yes All Men!

Some of us here in Durham have started a group called Yes All Men, as part of the Durham University Feminism Society. The name is based on the recognition that all men benefit from patriarchy, but all men can also be part of the solution, in terms of fighting for a more equal society. We formed the group in an attempt to play an active role in bringing about positive change, especially around issues such as men’s violence against women and sexual violence. We are eager for new members, so to get involved, contact us at yesallmendurham@gmail.com, on Facebook or Twitter. If you are not in Durham, why not start your own pro-feminist group, or support the White Ribbon Campaign?

  1. Support sexual violence organisations.

Organisations such as Rape Crisis carry out absolutely vital work in supporting survivors of sexual violence, yet these services are being decimated under the current government’s austerity programme. What does this say about our priorities as a society? Donating and raising money, for example for Durham and Darlington Rape and Sexual Abuse Counselling Centre, is therefore urgently needed. Even closer to home is of course It Happens Here – we are always looking for new members, and anyone can get involved! (To do so, email ithappensheredurham@gmail.com.)

7 Question your motivations.

Taking action against sexual violence as a man does not warrant any special reward or praise – it is simply the basic, decent, human thing to do. Yet society heralds men as heroes simply for not raping women. We must demand so much more of ourselves and of each other. This includes questioning our motivations with every instance of everyday activism we engage in. Are we really doing it because it is the right thing to do, or because it might win us praise and attention?

  1. Counter sexist and misogynistic behaviour.

Acts of sexism and misogyny contribute to a culture in which women are dehumanised and seen as ‘less than’. This kind of dehumanisation makes sexual violence and other forms of men’s violence against women possible and culturally tolerated. Every instance of sexism and misogyny therefore helps to create a context in which sexual violence is legitimised, as well as maintaining power relations in which men dominate. As men, we therefore have a responsibility to challenge such behaviour wherever we encounter it, particularly among our male peers – whether it takes place in your lecture theatre or your flat kitchen.

  1. Take down rape jokes.

Jokes about sexual violence and other forms of men’s violence against women may seem trivial, but it is because they trivialise acts like rape that these ‘jokes’ are so harmful. They are a key way in which sexual violence is minimised, excused, and therefore legitimised within our society. Not to mention the impact they can have on the people around you, and the numerous other reasons why you should do anything but laugh next time you hear one. If the person making the ‘joke’ claims they are just having fun, then why is it they feel entitled to have fun at the expense of victims of sexual violence?

  1. Listen to women’s experiences.

If the statistics about sexual violence at university sound shocking to you, then maybe you need to listen more to the women around you, about how acts of sexual violence, harassment and abuse are so routinely directed at them by men. Sexual violence remains an issue which is largely ignored and dismissed by our society because on a structural level we do not take into account women’s lived experiences. Instead of getting defensive when women talk about their experiences in relation to sexual violence because they don’t fit with our own view of the world, we need to start listening and learning from women much, much more, both individually and structurally. This is also another reason why it is important to be mindful of dominating discussions as a man, for example.

  1. Support those around you.

Given the pervasiveness of sexual violence, it is quite likely that there are people in your life who have experienced it. It is therefore really important to think and learn about how you can support the people in your life if they are a victim-survivor of sexual violence and decide to make that known to you. This goes for your male friends too for example – whilst women make up the majority of victims of sexual violence, it is perpetrated against people of all genders – demonstrating that you are ready to listen, believe and support them could make a huge difference.

  1. Deconstruct male privilege and entitlement.

One of the most difficult things to come to terms with as a guy is how the pervasiveness of sexual violence privileges us as men. It is simply not something most of us have to worry about in our day to day realities in the ways that women do. Sexual violence, and the threat of it, constrains women’s lives and liberty in ways that most men do not have to deal with, which in turn advantages us in all sorts of ways. This then helps to reproduce the patriarchal society in which we live, and is just one of many manifestations of men’s power and privilege and women’s oppression. However, feeling guilty about this will not help anyone, and it is not as easy as simply disowning our privilege either. Instead, we need to reflect on ways in which we might unconsciously be acting to maintain that power, and use the privilege we have to try and make the world around us more equal and safe for everyone.

  1. Challenge institutions and organisations.

One way in which men can use the power and privilege that we have is to make the institutions and organisations we are part of more open and inclusive for women. This has to include improving their response to sexual violence. For example, many of our fellow students will not be able to engage in or complete their university education because they have experienced sexual violence, and because the university fails to support them or hold the perpetrators to account. We each therefore have a duty as part of the Durham community to demand that the university stops burying its head in the sand when it comes to this issue. And what about societies you are part of, or your college common rooms, or your workplace, or your department? Can you think of things they could do to be more inclusive, welcoming and safe for women, and ways in which they can help to fight, and improve their response towards, sexual violence? Then start pressuring them to make changes, and encourage others to join you in doing so.

  1. Promote different ways of being a man.

At the core of why men perpetrate sexual violence, and our wider complicity in enabling and excusing it, is how we as a society define being a man and acceptable and desirable forms of ‘masculine’ behaviour. There is tremendous pressure on men to conform to these norms – failure to do so can mean castigation and ostracism for not being a ‘real man’, including if you care about and speak out against sexual violence. It is therefore vital that we encourage different ways of being men that involve treating women, and all people, with respect, as equals, rather than denigrating those who fail to meet the existing standards we set around masculinity based upon male dominance.

  1. Encourage healthy and respectful sex and relationships.

Particularly damaging norms exist around what kind of behaviour we expect in heterosexual sex and relationships. For example, at university predatory behaviour towards women can be encouraged among young men, which prioritises men’s sexual experience at all costs – regardless of the experience, or consent, of women. The reproduction of men’s dominance runs throughout our norms around heterosexual sex and relationships, from the expectation that sexual activity will be initiated by men, to the acceptance of men applying some degree of pressure on women to consent, to our expectation that men will be the ones ‘in control’ in heterosexual relationships. What’s more, a sense of entitlement to sex and to women’s bodies among men is nurtured in society, and manifested most clearly in sexual violence.

  1. Defy the objectification of women.

The objectification of women permeates throughout our society, and helps to legitimise sexual violence by again dehumanising women and presenting them as objects for male consumption, reducing women to their bodies and their bodies to things, which men are then deemed to be entitled to use. As men, we must refuse to engage in this objectification and challenge it where we encounter it – whether it is in a throwaway comment about a woman’s appearance, or the sexualised promotion of a club night, or the pornification of our culture, for example.

This list is by no means exhaustive, it describes just some of the forms of everyday activism which all of us as men need to engage in to fight sexual violence. Hopefully it demonstrates that when we think about its social underpinnings, there is a lot more to do than simply opposing sexual violence itself. Some of these things may not always be easy – many of them run counter to what society says makes a man, and the pressure to conform to that is very powerful. And of course, none of us will get everything right all of the time. It is therefore vital to constantly, critically reflect on ourselves and our behaviour; to learn from our mistakes; and to have the courage to make a real, continuous effort to change our behaviour and challenge others on theirs. This is a constant, ongoing struggle which we must all engage in. If we are serious about stopping sexual violence then nothing less than deep-rooted individual and structural change is going to be able to tackle it, and the social and cultural context which enables and excuses it. As it is primarily men who are responsible for sexual violence, this has to be our responsibility first and foremost – so let’s get started.

A survivor’s testimony: Rape is not prohibited; it’s regulated

By Anonymous

When I went to the university I was cynical about how much they could do. But, even with my expectations at rock bottom, I hadn’t imagined that at the end of it all I’d be the one threatened with expulsion and legal action.

 

At the start of the school year I’d been informed by staff that, all things considered, we shouldn’t file a complaint against him; it might render the university liable further down the line in a criminal case. No, it was police or nothing, despite the endless list of reasons that this was a terrible idea. I’d heard the stories from other survivors; “it was like being raped all over again”, or even “it was worse” featured heavily. Only one of us wanted to go to the police, but it was the only option given to both. The police all but laughed us off.

Sitting in the same university office several months later, I was nearly speechless with rage and fright. Now I was being told that he’d filed a complaint against me for harassment, citing the police as his evidence.

I asked, “Worst case scenario?”

“I’m so sorry.” There was a loaded pause. “Absolute worst case scenario—you get expelled.”

I was pretty sorry as well, for having ever made the mistake of going to the university.

It had taken significant escalation of the situation for me to even consider it. The two promises I’d obtained in the aftermath—through the mediating factor of friends—were, first, that he wouldn’t come near me and second, that he wouldn’t talk about it with anyone else. In the months since it had become clear that his interpretation of this was to spread intimate details to anyone who would listen. A lot of the details changed in each retelling. A fair few of them were blatant lies. He could have easily been caught out had anybody cared to talk to me. But of course nobody did, and I’d zipped my mouth shut.

Being informed by a mutual acquaintance that I’d been painted as a “psycho ex” wasn’t the deal-breaker to unzipping it. The deal-breaker was that people believed this coming from a man who, as one of his friends put it, ‘just sees no as a challenge’.

In the first meeting with the university the most important point to establish, after we’d said what he’d done to us, was that I was not going to the police. My friend wanted to but we weren’t ‘good’ victims: each of us had had a few drinks—should have known better—flirted a bit beforehand—cancelled out the times we’d asked him to back off—not to mention that we were thought of as a bit weird. That last one is an uninventive code for mentally ill.

A few meetings later we were told that once an official investigation had been launched perhaps the university could revoke his college privileges, maybe even suspend him. If we didn’t go to the police? Diddly squat. I left that office under strict instruction not to be left on my own. I hadn’t taken the news very well. My friend walked me to my room, where I didn’t exactly reassure anyone by crawling underneath my bed and refusing to come out. That evening, after eventually crawling back out, I wrestled with my decision. She was determined to go ahead—could I really just watch her from the sidelines?

The police interview was hell. By the end of the evening, I was completely exhausted. The brightest moment of the whole thing was when the officer was leaving. Standing in the corridor, reunited after giving our independent testimony, we heard them say that there was pretty good chance of the case going to court. I was stunned, reassured that I’d made the right decision; something good was going to come of this.

Less than 24 hours later, the same officer was informing me that the case had been dropped and they’d decided that no crime had taken place. I burst into tears for what felt like the thousandth time that week. Police training does not apparently encompass this scenario; they sidled out, just stopping short of coughing in embarrassment. I didn’t even get a jolly clap on the shoulder.

My phone rang later. “I feel like I just got run over by a fucking tractor,” she said.

“No-crimed for you too?” As crushed as I was, she’d been angrier and had argued back. Conversation had been in full swing in the back of a police car when she found that her testimony had been taken down wrong or—as they insisted—that she’d changed her story. I’ve heard her recount that story enough times to retell it in my sleep. The details have never changed.

So they got more serious about interviewing her. “Were you attracted to him?” was a highly important question, not to mention a classic of the genre, “what were you wearing?”—pyjamas, if you were interested—and the frankly baffling, “well, look, do you feel like a crime has been committed?” I suppose we just rang up the police for a bit of light entertainment and deserved a slap on the wrist for opening our call with, “we’d like to report a crime”. Students will do anything for a laugh.

When I eventually found out why my case had been dropped I was, fundamentally, baffled. Of course, it wasn’t anything silly like lack of evidence. Ah, no—it was mainly issues taken with my behaviour. At one point he’d left and come back and, well, I hadn’t screamed, locked the door and left him in the corridor in his unmentionables. Clearly I’d been quite keen on him, then. About ten minutes later, I’d succumbed to rising hysterical panic and, trying not to show it, managed to get him to leave; since he hadn’t hulked out and thrown me across the room he was evidently a stand-up bloke. Made me look a bit shady actually. Cast doubt on everything else I’d said. The general tone throughout was that I was getting very worked up about nothing and harassing a decent boy. I noticed that the officer I was talking to hadn’t even bothered to learn my friend’s name; they repeatedly got it wrong.

For a while, I flat out gave up. My grades were crashing, my friendships imploding because I was furious, despondent and helplessly pessimistic. During one panic attack I fell down a flight of stairs. At the bottom, I found myself nearly laughing at the thought that this was a solid metaphor for… basically, everything that was happening.

As victim-survivors, both of us stayed close. Everyone else, purposefully or not, had at least several filters between them and the sheer raw grossness. We didn’t. It was impossible to switch off anyway; her police experience was far from over.

My friend was and is, by nature, more argumentative than me. If it hasn’t become evident by this point, my number one response to adversity is to cry. Maybe a panic attack first. When you expect to get treated like shit, it’s not a massive surprise. For those who believe in justice it is, however, an outrage. She was one of those people at the time.

So her chats with the police continued. Somehow, the event that reduced me to literal incomprehensible shrieks of horror was interpreted by proud upholders of the law as “only teasing”. When she emphasised the fact that she’d said no quite clearly, they ummed and ahhed about hard nos versus soft nos. Then it got graphic. In fact, graphic enough to discuss how the velocity of an airborne penis can affect whether what happened was just kinda iffy or actually like… crime. How long does a no stay a no before it expires? Why didn’t she say no while the penis was winging its way towards her, before it touched her? When it was explained that there had not physically been time to say anything, they grudgingly gave up.

She has never shied away from the graphic details. “After all,” she says simply, while we’re discussing what she’d like me to write, “it’s the truth”.

Oddly enough, when he admitted that she was telling the truth, this was not enough for the police to take her seriously. “Look, he took advantage of you and it wasn’t nice, but is it really a crime?” transformed into “alright, yes, he has confirmed what you said he did—but he didn’t really mean it”. The next step was put into her hands. It was either a caution, or going the way of restorative justice. When my friend rang me, she was deeply troubled. “They said that going for a caution might ruin his life… and he seemed really upset…”

I did an uncanny impression of a banshee when I heard how the officer was convinced of his deep, abiding sorrow. “ABUSE 101,” I shouted into my phone. “THEY ALWAYS SAY THEY’RE SORRY!”

I’ll be honest; restorative justice is the most fucking baffling official response to sexual violence I’ve ever heard. The abuser and victim sit down together and have a chat. This is it. They have a chat, supervised by a trained facilitator and the abuser apparently realises all the harm they’ve caused. It is worth noting that the official UK website for restorative justice emphasises that “for any kind of communication to take place, the offender must have admitted to the crime”. So, in suggesting this—the officer was very keen on it—the police had acknowledged that a crime had taken place and that he had committed it. I’m pointing this out. Pointedly.

My friend said no to both options. It was a crime. She wanted to take it further—to court.

Not long after that, she was hospitalised. It wasn’t just the police. Neither of us were poster girls for stability. But the stress of the situation undeniably contributed. When she was discharged, it took an age to get back in contact with the police to figure out what had been happening while she’d been so ill. Months and months later, they told her they’d no-crimed it. Again.

Over the course of the year, I’d picked up horror stories. In one of my first meetings with the university, I was told that another woman had gone through a similar experience last year. What had happened to her? She left. Eleanor de Freitas’ story broke in the middle of our reluctant dealings with the police. At the time, I wondered if we’d end up as someone else’s horror story. I think we have.

Now that my friend was recovering at home, our tightly knit unit had been separated. It was odd that this had originally brought us together—we’d only known each other casually before the realisation that we had him in common—and then dumped us apart. Without my more outspoken partner, I felt more alone, more ashamed and crushed by the pressure of what was going unsaid. It didn’t seem that I had much to lose by telling some people who I hoped would believe me. It was still a dizzying leap of faith. They offered tissues, a glass of water, a hug. For a brief moment, I felt like I was taking back some measure of control over my life.

One of those people went right to him. About a week later I had the email, the trip back to the office, and was informed that I was now the one under investigation.

A simple solution had already been suggested by a senior member of staff: I could make him an apology, retract my offending statement and promise never to talk about it again. The promise would be considered binding. If I talked and it got back to him, I would be neck-deep in shit. A gag, effectively, slapped over my mouth as long as he was around; an Orwellian nightmare where he might be listening around any corner.

I hadn’t realised it was possible to sink further. A markedly low point was when all I could think about was slitting my wrists and bleeding out; it seemed a faster way to die. God, but I wanted to let this, at last, all be over. People assured me, confidently, that of course I wasn’t going to get expelled; that was ridiculous, it couldn’t happen, the university couldn’t let it. I didn’t have the energy to argue that I had precisely fuck-all faith in Durham any more.

Exams swung round again, and progress drip dropped to a halt. No more emails. No more news. The university has gone silent.

I cannot live silently. Being denied the right to speak—except in hushed tones, making a secret society of those few who can be trusted—just locks the rage and trauma inside. When each professional has let you down, one by one, and the sight of a police car is enough to make you shake and sweat, and bystanders continue to hand the power back to the predator; when you are the crazy bitch and he is, really, just a nice lad who cried at the thought that he might have done something wrong—

Towl figured that it was “inappropriate” for me to talk about what happened to me when I did, at the showing of the Hunting Ground. This university is different, after all, he stressed. They care here. Just… not right now. It’s not appropriate. But—I forgot to ask in the heat of the moment—when will it be? Can I have a time—maybe a place? After all, the Durham website proudly says that it’s A Responsible University. It’s under the bit about our values. So when do I get to talk without being expelled or sued for defamation hanging over my head? How many women does he have to rape before you decide it’s got to stop? How many of us are expendable to you as long as we don’t fit your brand of happy-safe-excellence? When does justice start actually fucking existing for victims and survivors?

Guess I’ll wait for all those promises to come around.

Won’t be holding my breath.

“I’m trying to remind myself that I didn’t do anything to deserve such treatment. I don’t think I have ever had anyone look at me like that and say they were worried about me, and I am holding on to it like a treasure: the idea that I am worth being worried about by someone I respect and who does understand how deeply I am struggling now.” (The Body Keeps the Score by Bessel van der Kolk)


The title of this piece is based upon a quote by Catharine MacKinnon (1989).

Sexual violence on campus: We’re at a tipping point

By Emily Whiteside

Reading about the Title IX complaints in the USA or first watching The Hunting Ground, I never imagined that I would one day sit opposite Annie Clark and Andrea Pino in Flat White Kitchen on a Wednesday afternoon.

In January 2013, Annie and Andrea filed a 34-page federal suit against the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. The complaint charged that the university had violated Title IX and Cleary Act legislation in its handling of their sexual assaults, and those of three other students. Their rise to fame has been well documented (1, 2, 3), and today they are public speakers, activists and co-founders of End Rape on Campus. They agreed to meet It Happens Here while visiting Durham to deliver a talk for the Castle Lecture Series.

Zeenia and I meet them in Castle, where they introduce themselves as Annie and Andrea and I struggle not to gush ‘I know’ as we shook hands.

Our meeting room had been double booked and every chair that we could find had rope stretched between the arms in a way that made me grateful for Mildert’s battered sofas. So Andrea suggests we walk into town and disappears upstairs to retrieve an enormous white coat that betrayed her Florida upbringing.

The next hour and a half was an inspiration and an education. Although they are both just a few years older than me, their confidence, knowledge and experience give the impression that they’ve been doing this for decades.

We list the things that outrage us about Durham. There is no comprehensive policy on sexual violence, no procedure in place that deals with disclosures or outlines consequences. The obscure chain of disclosure (the people who are notified when somebody does report) is long and convoluted. There is no mandatory training on responding to disclosures for staff in pastoral roles, like Senior Tutors. There are no centralised signposting resources for survivors.

Annie and Andrea don’t react with the shock and indignation that I expected. Instead they nod, unfazed. They’ve seen it all before. The problems exist in Durham and Chapel Hill alike.

“The UK,” Andrea says, “is where the U.S. was in 2012. And you’re on a precipice. I can see it happening.”

Annie adds, “It seems as though we’re the only ones going through it, but we’re not. Society keeps us from talking about it, society keeps us apart.”

I had prepared interview-style questions and revised their Wikipedia pages, but it turned out to be the most relaxed meeting I’ve ever had. Discussion on the legal definition of rape in North Carolina, Massachusetts and South Africa is interspersed with complaints from Andrea about her straightener not working with British plugs. But there is a recurring call to action. Annie and Andrea think big – bigger than I’ve ever thought as part of It Happens Here.

We have lobbied the university for a satisfactory policy on sexual violence that isn’t a vague afterthought in the guidelines on harassment. I spent the summer writing emails persuading colleges and frep teams to hold consent workshops and talks (“you did that? You’re awesome!” says Annie. I probably blush). But they have made me see a bigger picture, a wider pattern that goes beyond just Durham. They inspire us – challenge us – to think on a larger scale. Annie takes our email addresses and says she wants to connect us to students in Oxford, Edinburgh, London, to the new UK-based branch of End Rape on Campus.

All the students who filed Title IX complaints were ordinary people, they point out.

“Students have so much more power than they think they do,” Annie tells us, “and often the administration don’t want you to know that.”

She’s right. Universities are big businesses, although admittedly less so than in the States. Durham needs students to keep applying here. They need our £9000 a year (let’s not even start on international fees). After all, how else will they continue to invest in arms companies, The Daily Mail, and Picasso paintings? We should hold them accountable for our safety and wellbeing.

“It makes me think of Malala.” (I can’t remember who said this, because by this point my notes are including fewer names and more exclamation points and phrases like collective thinking and institutional indifference underlined three or four times) Annie/Andrea continues, “She advocates for female access to education, and often people don’t associate that with the US or the UK, but we’re not past that here. We are not equal on campus when we fear violence and harassment.”

This is the topic of their talk that evening: “The Empty Chair: Sexual Violence and Rape Culture as Global Barriers to Education”. As I walk there, two guys are leaning against the gate that leads to Prebends Bridge. As I pass them I tense automatically, keeping my eyes straight ahead and my fingers curled round my keys in my pocket. Rationally speaking, I know that I am most likely to be raped by someone I know – statistically, my boyfriend is more of a threat to me than these strangers. But this fear, the automatic threat that men represent, is part of the not equal that Annie and Andrea emphasise in their speech just 20 minutes later. I am conscious of the irony.

While men loitering on poorly lit roads may not be within the university’s remit, Andrea and Annie maintain that staff and administrators do have a responsibility to promote a safe environment. They must ensure survivors feel supported in coming forward; have clean, streamlined policies that are easily accessible; offer mental health and psychiatric services; engage in an active, on-going conversation with students.

They introduce benchmarks against which to measure the progress of an institution, posing questions like “do students know what the reporting options are?” I put this to my friends when I get home. “Who would you go to if you were sexually assaulted?” I ask.

“You, probably” one says.

“What if you didn’t know me?”

“No idea”.

They talk about universities forming committees that exclude students and survivors. Durham has set up the Sexual Violence Task Force, which I would forgive you for not having heard of. Apart from an update in October which didn’t go too well and one fairly uninformative article in the Palatinate, its progress has been woefully under-publicised. Maybe because there hasn’t been any yet.

Early next term, It Happens Here is meeting with Graham Towl, the Task Force’s chair. Our list of demands is the same as it has been for the last two years: mandatory staff training, a comprehensive sexual violence and disclosure policy, proper signposting. But hopefully this year is different.

“You’re on the tipping point,” Andrea said emphatically in Flat White, rapping her pen on her notebook for emphasis, “In a few years, you’ll look back and see history being made, right now!”

I’m hoping that Durham University will choose to be on the right side of history.

#16Days of Activism – A Discussion about Women in STEM, by Durham University Feminism Society

By Sharon Karikari

So what is STEM? By definition STEM is Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics. On Tuesday 17 November, two members from the Durham University Feminism Society exec committee, who were also students from the sciences, conducted a very thought-provoking and interesting presentation. The presentation delved into why it is important to establish equal representation in STEM, concluding that it is important to have women in these areas. It highlighted the importance that when disciplines such as STEM encourage diversity, equality and inclusion, it can therefore be shown that there is a direct link between diversity and outcome of knowledge. This is very important in an area such as STEM, which is very influential in the world around us.

A very important aspect that was presented during the presentation was the fact that medicine, which is part of STEM, often ignores certain intersections such as women, trans and intersex individuals. Thus the lobbying for STEM to be more intersectional is important as when there is more diversity in terms of research areas, science, technology, engineering and mathematics can cover and contribute to a diversity of people.

The wage gap was also discussed. STEM careers are some of the most highly paid careers and therefore seeing women in such positions is important in creating an equal representation in pay in the working world. WISE statistics show the current situation as being that only 14.4% of all STEM jobs in the UK are held by women, and about 8% for engineering. Moreover, the presentation helped one to recognise that women have been interested in science for a long time, and it is therefore not a new phenomenon. Women throughout time have contributed to science, but it is only more recently that there has been more recognition for their achievements. Several excellent examples of prominent female scientists throughout history were discussed, such as Ada Lovelace, Rosalind Franklin, Marie Curie and Laura Bassi (where we all learned the interesting fact that Bassi raised 12 children and still managed to write a Physics paper at a time were women were only viewed and valued in terms of the private sphere of life).

So why does this all matter, especially to the 16 Days of Activism? The campaign runs this year from 25th November till 10th December, Human Rights Day, as a time for action to end violence against women and girls around the world. The focus is on Education and violations to the rights of Education. Education is a human right and focusing on subjects such as STEM, where marginalised groups are not heard, is something that needs to be brought to light and this campaign aims to do that. Why is this still important today? Women are still being taught that certain subjects are for boys. Although this is being tackled by initiatives to encourage women, girls and other marginalised groups into STEM, many across the world are still being denied the right to such aspirations. When it comes to STEM, which is a powerful tool in our lives today through professions such as medicine and healthcare, it is very concerning if women are not being heard or their voices are not contributing to things that affect them. Girls need to have role models and the internet need to be encouraged to promote this.

Education is a fundamental human right recognized in Article 26 of the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights and upheld in various international and regional human rights conventions and treaties. However, the fundamental right to an education is subject to political, economic and social shift and upheavals (especially for women, girls, people with disabilities, LGBTQI people, refugees, immigrants and indigenous people). These intersections are vulnerable to being denied the right to an education, and less likely to be encouraged to enter the world of academia and prominent subject areas such as STEM. Therefore, it is time that awareness of the marginalisation of these groups is raised around the world, particularly the refusal to let them access knowledge or have their voices heard in areas that may affect them in a specific subject discipline. The 16 Days of awareness-raising, in terms of Education, helps us to consider such important issues in activism.

References and acknowledgements

Durham University Feminism Society Women in STEM presentation and Notes

http://www.unwomen.org/en/what-we-do/ending-violence-against-women/take-action/16-days-of-activism

http://16dayscwgl.rutgers.edu/