Sexual abuse can go on for years, hidden behind the veneer of a perfect relationship. J had already tried to end her relationship with her abusive boyfriend a few years previously, telling him that she did not want to be with him any longer. Boyfriend, however, refused to let her break up with him: ‘No, I will not allow it,’ he had told her. So she carried on, persuading herself that she was ‘in love’ and that she enjoyed it. Both J and Boyfriend came to study at Durham, sharing a college room in their first-year, and living together in the same room in a house outside College in their second.
J was quiet and shy, rarely socializing with the rest of the girls in the house. Boyfriend, however, quickly came under the influence of a male fellow-housemate, a walking epitome of compensatory hyper-masculine lad-culture. The two began to go on nighttime adventures together, trailing Klute and Fabios for drunken ‘bait.’ Boyfriend idolized the latter, like Piggy had idolized Jack. Yet while this Jack dragged cataleptic young women back to his room, ‘seducing’ them with alcohol and drugs, Boyfriend’s antics, at first, stopped at the threshold— he was still ‘loyal’ to J. After all, she did all his laundry, cleaned their room, and cooked all of his meals for him.
Throughout this time, Boyfriend was lovely to the rest of the girls in the house. So sweet, so charming. Unsurprisingly, the high-pitched screams of pain coming from their room at first sounded like laughs to the rest of their housemates. Every night, they would hear J’s screaming and crying and Boyfriend’s shouting. Yet next morning the two would both act as though nothing out of the ordinary had occurred. The other girls asked J if anything was wrong— no. Yet one time, J had spent an entire night outside in the cold, too afraid to be in the same room as Boyfriend. J had nowhere to go, the rent on their shared room already having been paid, and she was too ashamed to tell anyone what was going on. Ashamed, as Boyfriend had told the rest of ‘his lads’ in their house that J had abused him: during one of their altercations, she hit him back with a pillow.
By the end of the year, things escalated, and Boyfriend allowed J to end their relationship— but, unfortunately, not before convincing her to sign for a house to live in alone with each other in their third year. Boyfriend, despite then dropping out of Durham over the summer, refused to take his name off their tenancy, and refused to pay any rent. One night a few months later when J was living alone at the new flat, Boyfriend suddenly returned from his summer away. He proceeded to abuse her verbally, emotionally, physically, and sexually, and decided to stay in their flat for several months. J then went to the police.
After waiting for hours at the station, the police took down J’s testimony. Their first point of action was to inform Boyfriend that he was being investigated by them, as well as concerning what. J stayed at a friend’s house that night, as she was too afraid to go home. When she did eventually return, Boyfriend was so violently angry that he broke down the bedroom door in rage. The police then informed J that there was nothing they could do; if they arrested Boyfriend, she could get arrested too if Boyfriend said that she had been violent to him, since J had no concrete proof to the contrary. She had never mentioned the sexual abuse, as she had no evidence and felt too guilty. Getting a restraining order was out of her budget. So was the room that College offered her when she informed them of the situation. Boyfriend’s parents supported their son in his behavior, blaming J for breaking up with him. J was too afraid to tell her parents as she did not want to upset them. The landlord only cared that J paid for the fixing of the door that Boyfriend broke down. After several months, Boyfriend left, switching to psychologically abusing her via text. In a particular voice message, he even threatened to ‘slaughter’ her entire family. J had no support at all.
A recent study by the Telegraph found that out of the average 1 in 3 female students sexually assaulted, 97% did not report it to their universities. In many cases, however, as in J’s situation, there is simply no point in reporting abuse, as staff can often be completely unequipped to handle such situations.
This is precisely why It Happens Here Durham is an essential organisation. IHH is a community to which survivors and sufferers are able to turn to, that lets them know that they are not alone, that helps them, and allows their voices to be heard. In the past few months, IHH has also been branching the divide between the students and the university administration at the college level, having organised not only training sessions for IHH student members, but also having led workshops at several colleges— educating both students, mentors, and tutors about the nature of sexual violence, and discussing appropriate ways of dealing with victims and instances of sexual abuse at the senior college level. This is precisely what needs to be done; without support networks, counselling provisions, and advice from knowledgeable University authorities ready and able to take action, sufferers, in many cases, have no choice but to put up with on-going abuse, to laugh off sexual harassment— left to attempt to repress incidents of sexual abuse from their memories, to pretend that they never occurred.