By Catriona Houston
Part of the ‘It Happens Here’ campaign at Durham is public faces of students standing up against sexual violence at the university. We have recently conducted information stalls around campus to catch the attention of passers-by and start conversation about rape, sexual assault and domestic violence. Responses to our presence outside the library or the dining hall in colleges has been mixed, sometimes very encouraging but sometimes quite shocking. This provoked me to write something small about the importance of speaking out against sexual violence and allowing conversation that is often only acceptable in hushed voices.
Discussion about sexual violence is either completely tabooed or is watered down and pushed to one side. It is not something that applies to them, it is not a subject that affects them. But the fact is that consent is the law and applies to everyone. Shocking statistics state that sadly 1 in 4 female students experience sexual violence; this means that those individuals, their friends and family are all affected- that’s probably many more people than you might realise.
There are two significant repercussions of making the subject of sexual violence off limits. If discussions are avoided then it is much easier to dissociate yourself from what is happening.
Victims are left unsupported with no one to turn to at a point when they have been violated and lost all control. If sexual violence is not discussed then the victim can naturally feel embarrassed and begin to blame themselves. No one ever asks to be raped or abused, the blame lies with the abuser.
Perpetrators can detach themselves from their crimes and turn rape into a ‘regret’. This minimises rape and supports the common myth that women lie about rape because they regret drunken sex. Men who commit rape are rapists.
The campaign looks to continue to increase our public face, working to remove the taboo from discussion about sexual violence and letting Durham students know that it does happen here and we are here to talk about it.