How can we stay safe? The Courier speaks to Streetwise

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Although we would all like to believe we are safe at university, statistics show that students are still at a high risk of sexual assault and emotional abuse. I spoke to Ellen Smith, Service Manager of Streetwise, about how we can stay safe.

Could you please explain who Streetwise are and what kind of work you guys do?
Streetwise is a young person’s charity based in Newcastle city centre. We work with young people aged 11-25years, providing free, confidential, information, advice, support and counselling. See our website here: http://www.streetwisenorth.org.uk

What are the main signs that someone is in an emotionally abusive relationship?
There can be many signs indicating that a relationship is abusive. Aside from the obvious physical abuse young people should look out for controlling behaviour, for example telling you or putting pressure on you not to wear certain things or hang out with certain friends. Overly jealous behaviour, constant criticisms or put downs, name calling, gaslighting (making you doubt yourself), making out everything is your fault, withholding affection, giving the silent treatment, not respecting your personal boundaries, forcing or pressurising you into sexual activity, taking money from you or not giving you access to money are also all signs of an abusive relationship.

Last month saw a Newcastle University student face charges for sharing revenge porn. How can students prevent fallen a victim to revenge porn, and what advice do you have if this occurs?
Revenge Porn is the sharing of private, sexual materials, either photos or videos, of another person, without their consent and with the purpose of causing embarrassment or distress. If a student is being blackmailed or threatened with ‘revenge porn’ they should seek help, either from the university or an organisation like Streetwise. They can also report this to the police themselves as revenge porn is criminal offence.

Students should be very careful with whom they share intimate images of themselves with. Once that image has left their own device, they really do not have any control over where that image might end up.

In what ways can the university react in these situations? Do you believe it is the university’s responsibility to get involved in these cases?
The university has a responsibility to inform and educate students about the dangers of sexting and sharing intimate images. The university should operate with a zero-tolerance stance towards this and others forms of sexual harassment, and appropriate action should be taken towards perpetrators. Also making sure students know where and when they can go for help if they need it.
With the rise of social media, online harassment is becoming more and more common. What do you believe can be done about this?
Young people need to be made aware of the potential risks of using social media, the risks in sharing images and information about yourself. They should also be informed on to how to report online harassment and ensure they know how to block other users and set up adequate privacy settings.

These issues appear to affect students in particular. Do you have any opinions on why this is?
Students and more widely young people like to communicate using online platforms. The use of dating platforms (tinder, match etc) to make romantic connections is far more popular that it has ever been. Students and young people are exploring the world, friendships and relationships and need to do so as part of the transition into adulthood. The issue is more about how to do this safely, which comes down to information and education to allow informed and positive choices.

Last modified: 3rd December 2018

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