By Emily Whiteside
If you’re reading this blog, you’re probably just as anti-rape as I am. Most people are. But it’s not really enough to be anti-something in principle if you never do anything to fight it.
However, the system is stacked against us. “What can I do?” I hear you cry, “What difference can I make to the deeply rooted, misogynistic, societally-accepted rape culture we exist in?”
A huge one, actually. There are many things that you can do, every day, to help fight a system that trivializes, normalizes and accepts violence against women, and make Durham a safer place for everyone to live.
1. Educate yourself
The traditional rape narrative, the one that has been transmitted to us through countless media stories, TV shows and movies, is simple. There’s a scary, “crazy” man hiding in a dark alley, waiting to rape the first attractive white woman who has been stupid enough to walk by herself/be intoxicated/wear a short skirt (delete as applicable). I mean, what was she expecting, AMIRITE? She then ends up sitting with her head permanently in her hands and eventually becomes a stock photo used to illustrate articles about sexual assault.
This scaremongering, victim-blaming narrative is not representative of the vast majority of experiences of sexual assault. This misinformation feeds ignorance and makes people question anyone whose story doesn’t fit this pre-prescribed narrative.
If you have never experienced sexual assault, then you should try and educate yourself on the reality of the situation. Did you know that 1 in 7 women students experience a “serious physical or sexual assault during their time as a student”? And that around 90% of sexual assault victims know their attackers?
Don’t shy away from words like ‘rape culture’ and ‘patriarchy’. Instead, do some research into what they are: why they exist, how they manifest themselves, and how this adversely affects a huge proportion of society.
Our website has resources to help you begin your initial research, our Twitter account and Facebook page regularly post links that you can use to further educate yourself, and we’re planning to run an awareness-raising campaign next term that you can look out for. You’ll have to be prepared to do some work by yourself – and to critically appraise how sexual assault is covered on platforms like mainstream media – but there is no excuse to be ignorant about a topic that affects so many people.
2. Call out those around you
Pop quiz – over well-earned revision drinks at the New Inn, on the topic of the all-too-common phenomenon that is being groped in Klute, a friend says “Did you see her skirt though? She was definitely asking for it.”
Do you –
a) Take a long sip of your Kopparberg and pretend not to hear
b) Raise your eyebrows and look disapprovingly at the floor
c) Turn to your friend and say “Actually, the only time someone is asking for something is if they are LITERALLY ASKING YOU FOR IT.” Please don’t excuse that kind of behaviour, it’s sexual harassment.”
People often let their friends get away with ignorant and offensive comments because calling them out on it would just be awkward and make you look like a killjoy and after all it was just one joke!
Don’t let other people think it’s acceptable to make abusive and hurtful comments or jokes about sexual violence.
Firstly, there may be someone sitting in the group who has experienced sexual violence him- or herself: in fact, this is statistically likely (1 in every 7 women students is one woman per freshers’ corridor, as Ben, the Mildert Welfare Officer, has very astutely pointed out). Insensitive comments about rape can be isolating and upsetting for those who have experienced sexual violence.
Secondly, if you listen passively to somebody making offensive statements and you say nothing, even if alarm bells are going off in your head, then to that person, you are agreeing. And if they believe that other people condone their opinions, their behaviour is more likely to be modeled on their ‘jokes’.
If you are a man, you can use your privilege to challenge these kinds of opinions from friends and other people around you – but if a woman is challenging it herself, don’t feel the need to ‘rescue’ her. I cannot speak for all feminists, but I personally will only bash you with your privilege if you are completely oblivious to it and fail to use it for anything productive.
3. Support survivors
One startling feature of rape culture is the automatic suspicion towards survivors of sexual violence. This mistrust completely unfounded – studies have estimated the proportion of rape allegations that are false is as small as 3%. In fact, a man is more likely to be sexually assaulted himself in his life than to be falsely accused of rape.
Women have very little reason to ever lie about being sexual assaulted – especially given how society treats those who accuse their attackers. Yet despite this, those who have experienced sexual violence are automatically disbelieved, doubted and questioned. Being sexual assaulted can be a horrific experience, and being brave enough to speak up about it, only to be pulled apart based on something as insignificant as what you were wearing or drinking, leads to a culture where speaking out against sexual violence is taboo, and perpetrators keep getting away with it.
Don’t contribute to the no-platforming of survivors through questioning their decisions or doubting their story. Don’t make the subject taboo. Read the accounts of sexual violence on our website. Take somebody speaking about their experiences seriously. If a friend discloses an experience of sexual violence to you, you can use the ‘Support a Friend’ link on our website for advice on how to help them.
4. Demand policy change
Your quality of student life at Durham University will be better if policies are in place to prevent and appropriately deal with sexual violence at both a college and university level.
Anti-sexual violence motions have been passed by my own JCR, Van Mildert, and at other colleges like Chad’s SCR, which are a great step.
If your college doesn’t have an anti-sexual violence motion, consider writing your President or Welfare Officer an email proposing one. We have a template motion that you can use if you get in contact with us. If your college hasn’t been involved with IHH, why don’t you invite us to run an information stall, talk or workshop? As Senior Freps university-wide begin planning for Freshers’ Week, why don’t you get in contact with them to ask about their ideas for consent workshops?
Change needs to happen at a wider institutional level too. The DSU passed a motion before Christmas condemning sexual violence, but the university currently has no official policy on sexual violence, no training for its staff on how to deal with it, and no real consequences for perpetrators.
I’m not saying every student at Durham should up and abandon their degrees, staging a sit-in in the Palatine Centre until the Vice Chancellor agrees to make a change. Although that would be great. But letting the university know that you are dissatisfied with policies affecting your safety and well-being while at university is your right as a student who pays (exorbitant) fees to be here. Whether this is through your Student Union Reps in college, your Community Officer at the DSU or an email right to the top, making your voice heard is a critical part of making change. Speaking of, remember to vote.
5. Join It Happens Here!
I know, I know, shameless plug. But the easiest way to fight something is to be at the centre of the action, and if you’re passionate about ending sexual violence then get in touch.
You can commit as much, or as little, time as you want, and choose to get involved with things that interest you – whether it be social media, running college events, signposting and advice, or designing campaigns. We welcome women and men, those who have experienced sexual violence and those who have not.
6. Don’t rape
It’s not fucking difficult.
If someone says no, don’t touch them.
If someone is acting uncomfortable, stop doing whatever you’re doing.
If someone is too drunk to consent, do not rape them.
If someone is not ACTIVELY, ENTHUSIASTICALLY, WILLINGLY consenting, then back the fuck off.
It’s not difficult, but apparently it still needs to be said.