Recent reports of assault and rape has revealed the persisting levels of sexual assault experienced by students on campus and at University led events during freshers’.
Statistics from the Report of the Universities UK Taskforce examining violence against women, harassment and hate crime affecting university students, and the high frequency of individually reported cases in Newcastle, have revealed the continuing severity of the issue of sexual harassment and assault for large proportions of Newcastle students both on and off campus during freshers’ week.
Members of staff have also reported a worrying surge in reports of students seeking advice and guidance following assaults at Newcastle University events since the beginning of the academic term.
This has brought the serious and persistent issue of sexual harassment and assault on our campus and at fresher’s events into heated discussion throughout the university.
A 2015 NUS poll of new students found that 17% of respondents had been victims of some form of sexual harassment during their first week of term and 29% had witnessed sexual harassment directed at someone else.
Surveys from within Newcastle University itself have revealed the same outcome. Last year, NUSU’s Marginalised Genders Officer, Saffron Kershaw Mee gathered data from over 110 students of which 70% of respondents had been sexually harassed or raped in the city of Newcastle (18% on University campus itself).
Saffron commented: “This data shows only a portion of the deeply rooted problem at hand – the trivialisation and silencing of sexual assault, harassment and rape cases.”
Statistics like these are raising concerns about the effectiveness of safeguarding measures employed during student events on campus and the extent to which the University’s responsibility to educate and enforce the idea of consent on campus in freshers’ week and beyond is being fulfilled.
In an interview with the Courier, Stacy Gillis, Chair of Equality and Diversity in the SELLL NU steering committee and lecturer in English Literature gave her opinion on the recent reports: “I’m sickened by the endemic culture of sexual harassment. Sexual harassment is about power, plain and simple – the exercising of power over someone else. Why do men, and I know that women can also sexually harass, but the majority of time it is done by men, feel that they can do this? Because of the fact that we live in a culture which endorses models of male power through patriarchal discourse.
Our social institutions work to disguise those who sexually harass – Harvey Weinstein, Donald Trump, Hugh Hefner? The model being offered by them is that it is fine to sexually harass, fine to sexually abuse – so long as you can get away with it by threatening people.”
When asked how we should be working together to combat this issue she said:
“We need to talk to one another; get angry; organise; argue; resist; educate; call out this behaviour."
Consent and Conduct sessions should be mandatory for all students, male, female and binary, and should happen early on in Fresher’s Week.”
Attempting to tackle this issue Newcastle University encouraged students to participate in a workshop entitled ‘Respect’ during freshers’ week, a new initiative run jointly by NUSU, Student Wellbeing and the police with the aim of tackling the issue of sexual misconduct, but the event was non-compulsory.
17% of respondents had been victims of some form of sexual harassment during their first week of term and 29% had witnessed sexual harassment directed at someone else.New Newcastle University student led organisation It Happens Here also aims to tackle the issue of sexual assault and harassment and provide survivor support to Newcastle University students.
Fae Horsley, Campaigns officer for It Happens Here commented: “As our name states, sexual violence is something that happens here, it happens everywhere, and it needs to be addressed now. Our main goal this year is to set up a peer support group for women survivors of sexual assault; which is a service that is in demand but currently non-existent.
“As part of our campaigning this year, we are planning on attending SU events to hand out anti-spiking bottle toppers for drinks, provide rape alarms to students and inform students about the importance of consent.
“As well as being directly involved with how the university tackles assault on campus, we want to become an inspiration for other universities in how they respond to their students needs.”
The question of compulsory consent classes has previously caused tension across UK Universities when last year Durham, Oxford and Cambridge University made the decision to make their sexual consent workshops compulsory for incoming freshers.
While the evidence considered by the Taskforce report emphasised the importance of adopting and embedding a zero-tolerance approach to facilitate meaningful cultural change, many are still sceptical about the classes being “patronising” and “unnecessary.”
Staff and students hope to combat this issue by working together, educating about consent and providing support for anyone who is a victim of any kind of sexual assault.