We must change our approach to sexual violence

first_imgWe also shouldn’t forget that even within the debate around sexual violence, many of the most vulnerable groups are still being marginalised and their voices are not being heard.Sex workers, for instance, are a group which experiences high levels of sexual violence and receives little to no protection from the law and the police, since sex work is illegal in the UK. This means that if sex workers decide to report sexual assault and rape, as a consequence they will then often themselves be prosecuted for their work, while the initial charges against the people who assaulted them are being dropped. In addition, the current laws make it very difficult for sex workers to put basic safety measures in place. The law against brothel keeping, for example, is frequently used against sex workers working together on a premises in order to protect themselves and each other.  It doesn’t help that many prominent feminists consider all sex work to be coercive and are therefore in favour of its criminalisation. It is crucial however, to acknowledge that there’s a difference between consensual sex when payment is involved, and rape. And as feminists, we should campaign against the latter, not the former.And of course, let’s not  forget about trans* people, disabled people and asylum seekers. Like sex workers, these are all groups that face high levels of (sexual) violence, are often given very little support and protection from the state and whose experiences are often not considered by campaigners and activists against sexual violence.If we believe that “a dress is not a yes”, then we have to realise that “being trans* is not a yes” nor is your work, your legal status or your disability. Rape is rape is non-consensual sex. No matter who the victim is.Rebekka Hammelsbeck is organiser of WomCam, OUSU’s autonomous women’s campaign.Anna Bradshaw: only students can force change in policy on sexual violence1 in 7 women are seriously sexually assaulted during their time in higher education (NUS, 2010). It is beyond clear that sexual violence is a serious problem at universities across the country.  So herein lies the critical insight: if most of the men we talk to feel these behaviours are wrong, then how can they develop the skills to intervene and to stand up and say something? Or to model themselves the affirming people they can be? Our several months of workshops have shown the potential for men to take part in creating a culture of inclusion—one where gender inequity, and sexual violence, will one day be history.Changing our social norms towards equity of every sort is a long-term project, but one well worth the effort, and one that starts when all of us are partners in this project. To end gender inequity, we all need to join the conversation. Are you ready to join the Good Lad revolution?To sign up for a Good Lad workshop, visitgoodladworkshop.wordpress.comRebekka Hammelsbeck: The national discourse on sexual violence needs to changeThe public discourse on rape and sexual violence is largely dominated by myths and misconceptions which is incredibly frustrating but is perhaps not very surprising given the pervasiveness of rape culture. So it might help to debunk some of the most popular rape myths once again:No, most rapes are not committed by strangers jumping out of a dark alleyway, but by someone the victim knows. Some 70% in fact. It might be a friend, a classmate or a long-term partner. And yes, they can be nice people. No, false accusations of rape are not higher than false accusations of any other crimes. They’re only around 3%.And yes, it can happen everywhere: and it does happen here in Oxford too.  The newly launched zine from OUSU’s It Happens Here Campaign sheds light on the local situation and features stories and experiences from students at our university. It also highlights the shortcomings of the university in dealing with sexual violence in our community. It’s a great resource although very shocking to read. This week, Cherwell investigated the extent of sexual violence in Oxford. Here, leading activists in the university respond. Read the original investigation herePatricia Stephenson: When will inconsistencies in Oxford’s approach to sexual violence end?Reading the Sexual Violence Survey one thing seems clear: the inconsistency in how sexual violence is handled across the University. Some students were grateful for the way their college handled the situation, but they seem to be in the minority.Sexual violence has a profound effect on the survivor’s life, so it is absurd that the University doesn’t take the lead in ensuring that all colleges offer the same standard of support.A decade ago, when the University realised harassment existed, they established harassment advisors, a senior member in each college to deal with harassment. On paper, I’m sure this ticks the “we support our students” box, but in reality these advisors can take the form of an obscure fellow without harassment training.This is just one example of how poor the support provisions are across the University. It’s not fair to say that all colleges don’t provide support, but it is so poorly publicised that students don’t know it exists. Many colleges provide a Welfare Room for students who don’t feel comfortable going back to their own, or who are too drunk to get home, but no one knows about these things so their existence is redundant. The nearest Solace Centre, which provides forensic examination for survivors of sexual violence, is in Slough. Not all colleges will reimburse the taxi fare, a simple demonstration of support.Oxford Sexual Abuse and Rape Crisis Centre, which provides support for survivors of sexual violence, is a wonderful service for students in Oxford. They are badly under-financed. Oxford University RAG has provided financial support for Oxford Sexual Abuse and Rape Crisis Centre, but why doesn’t the University?Just because someone doesn’t want to go to the police, does not mean their college shouldn’t support them. The vast majority of cases happen in college so you’re likely to know to the perpetrator; for a college official to tell you it’s not a big deal can be incredibly damaging for someone who has experienced sexual violence. It’s an epidemic that we have an obligation to fix because we have an obligation to each other, but silence will not make the violence stop. It will not protect anyone. It will not make it easier for survivors to heal. Silence just buries the pain. It Happens Here was created to give people a chance to breathe silence. We believe that if we join together to say that sexual violence happens here we can dedicate ourselves to creating an Oxford where it doesn’t.We can make Oxford a place where survivors are able to share their experiences and can find support, and we can ingrain consent and respect for each other in our culture so that there are fewer attacks in years to come. Our community is already taking the first steps in this direction. The OUSU Consent workshops are being instituted in more colleges each year and the university is working towards trainings on sexual violence for welfare staff.There are also incredible individuals across the university who advocate for survivors. But to create a community where sexual violence is understood we must go further. We need to institute comprehensive policies on sexual violence across the university, policies that commit our university to acknowledging and standing against sexual violence. If we come together and make that commitment, we can begin make the university place where everyone is safe to live and to learn.Abigail Burman is an organiser of the It Happens Here campaignThe Good Lad Workshop: Why we need a positive masculinitySexual violence and harassment are everywhere. Whether we choose to see it or not, the statistics are pretty clear: 68% of UK University women reported some sort of harassment — from verbal harassment to sexual assault — during their tenure in higher education. Oxford once led the way for student college welfare provisions across the UK, with Balliol being the first higher education institution to provide free contraceptives. However, it has always been student led and student driven.Colleges need to start realising that it really does happen heredity’s great that there are student led campaigns about sexual violence, from those Sexual Consent Workshops to WomCam Events, but this shouldn’t have to be the case. It’s the Colleges and University, those bodies who claim responsibility overuse that should be starting these initiatives and supporting them financially.Patricia Stephenson is JCR President at Corpus Christi CollegeAbigail Burman: It is time the university ended its silence on sexual violenceOne in four female undergraduates and three in 20 men nationally are survivors of sexual violence. For Oxford, this means that of the undergraduate women alone, almost 3,000 people have experienced sexual violence.Image what that number of survivor’s means. If you gathered them together in a single group, there would be people thronging the streets of Oxford, spilling out of buildings and filling quadrangles and courtyards. There are also the stories, so many stories of pain and struggle and resilience- enough stories to overflow libraries. But in the face of these numbers, these stories and these people there’s silence.When I came to Oxford the only mention of sexual violence was a short entry in the welfare guide. There are few policies at the college or university level addressing sexual violence. There is nothing guiding survivors through getting support. People who try to reach out face inadequate policies and people who don’t have the experience needed to help them.Silence at an administrative levels matched by silence between people. So many of the stories submitted to It Happens Here are from people who have never told anyone else. Some people do tell others, but all too frequently the people they tell just silence them again by not believing them. Sexual violence is an epidemic in our community. We know the problem isn’t just strangers hiding in the bushes, or sloppy, unthinking drunkards. Key part of ending this epidemic of gender inequity is getting to grips with the culture and social norms that allow these sorts of behaviours to not only proliferate, but tube viewed as acceptable. But how do we address these expectations and perceptions? To end gender inequity, we need to look at how our behaviours — and the behaviours of our teammates, friends and colleagues —are influenced by, and influence, the social norms that allow it to occur.It all starts with a conversation: about ourselves and our relations to others, including our relations to women. We must consider how our actions, thinking and unthinking, create inclusion or exclude others. We should stop to think about how tube more affirming, empowering people, not just for ourselves, but for our teams and ourcommunities. And in taking this time to think, we can develop the sorts of skills that help us to transform potentially negative situations into opportunities for more fulfilling relationships, more productive teams, and more inclusive spaces. In short, men should involve themselves as part of the solution to these problems, and by doing so can produce positive outcomes forthemselves, people they have relationships with, and the community as a whole. This is positive masculinity.Our Good Lad workshops, which try to promote this positive masculinity with male groups and teams, have found the same problems time after time. Throughout our conversations with other men, we’ve found that university men feel constrained to act in ways that don’t necessarily stack up with their values. In fact, our own evaluations have shown that while many participantswould personally prefer not to engagein the sorts of negative behaviours that ourworkshops bring to the table for discussion. Instead, many of them feel that their peer groups would be more likely to support the sorts of behaviours that foster gender inequity and that manifest it: objectification of women, sexual aggression, and verbal harassment amongst them. At Oxford, the situation is exacerbated by what should be our greatest strength: the college system. Rather than tighter-knit communities that can offer immediate support, we have a system where survivors fall through the cracks between colleges, departments, and the central administration.College harassment officers, supposedly the first line of contact, are rarely trained, and, as Cherwell’s investigation shows, often invisible. The actual first responders – porters, chaplains, personal tutors – have even less training, and are often far out of their depth. Students end up unsure of where to go for help, and feeling dismissed when they get there.The confusing situation in colleges is made worse by the central university’s woefully inadequate sexual harassment policy. Out of date – it does not even include online harassment – it subsumes everything from stalking to rape under the broad title of ‘harassment’. The university’s squeamishness about legal complexities does not excuse their blatantly failing survivors.Departments are even worse equipped than colleges. The fact that they are academic institutions only (colleges manage the pastoral side) means that they won’t touch ‘discipline’. Complaints tend to be resolved informally, which means that they often go nowhere, and contributes to the (not unfounded) perception that complaints leveled at staff come out in favor of the accused.These problems – in colleges, the central university, and departments – combine to make Oxford Uni something of a perfect storm for confusing and failing victims of sexual harassment and assault. There are a number of very practical things that we could be doing better. With more training and publicity for harassment officers, colleges could certainly make the first response stronger.Departments need to step up and acknowledge that they have a part to play in preventing harassment. And we can only hope that the university’s policy will soon cover the more serious cases.But these institutional considerations only go so far: creating a better response to instances of sexual violence does not stop them from happening to begin with. The culture of rape and harassment that surrounds these assaults is pervasive, even finding its way onto our sports teams’ mailing lists.Initiatives that come from OUSU and from Women’s and Welfare Officers within colleges, offer some hope. For example, the sexual consent workshops for Freshers, sports teams, and other committees are expanding rapidly. I had the privilege to be a pilot participant as a Fresher, and this year I ran a program of compulsory workshops in Wadham’s Freshers’ Week. WomCam, the It Happens Here Campaign, and the Good Lad Workshops are all reaching more and more people.But change won’t happen by itself. Students need to call for serious reform to the way that the university deals with sexual violence. Cherwell’s report makes this need crystal clear.Anna Bradshaw is Wadham Student Union’s Women’s Officerlast_img read more