We’re at a tipping point. UK university culture and society in general is seeing a growing awareness of sexual violence that simply did not exist a few years ago. At Durham University, the introduction of It Happens Here in 2012 was the first time the student body had really tried to talk about sexual violence. We emerged as a campaign to raise awareness, and four years later, we think we’re getting somewhere.
You’ve probably heard the statistics before, but they’re worth repeating. One in seven female students is a victim of serious sexual or physical assault. One in four is a victim of sexual violence in general. Ten percent of these students have reported the assault to the police, and only four percent to their university. In addition to this, 20% of UK women over the age of 16 have experienced sexual violence. Three out of every twenty men have been victims, too.
So, what’s the University currently doing about this? Well, some colleges, like Van Mildert, have been incredibly receptive to our consent workshops. Their president of last year even wrote a blog post on our website about them. Last year, the Castle Lecture Series hosted Annie E. Clark and Andrea L. Pino, cofounders of End Rape on Campus, for one of their events. And most importantly, the University recently launched its Sexual Violence Task Force, a move that instilled a new level of hope in all of us that something was finally being done on an institutional level. Well, almost. Since its introduction, at the time of writing, we haven’t heard very much from the Task Force. Its webpage is tucked away in the corner of the University’s website, and is the only mention of sexual violence on there. We like to think that the Task Force will engage in some more self-promotion next year, potentially asking It Happens Here to weigh in on its ideas and policies, and generally engage with the student body more to get things done.
It Happens Here is a relatively new group in Durham. Nevertheless, we have huge aims. Our first goal is for a transparent sexual violence policy. A clear policy is something that should interest the University and its students alike. As well as providing a better procedure for dealing with victims of sexual violence, it might too offer ways of dealing with the perpetrators. Our second aim is for better signposting for those seeking support, and our third is for mandatory training for members of staff, particularly those whose jobs require a degree of pastoral care. We believe that staff and administrators have a responsibility to promote a safe environment. They must ensure survivors feel supported in coming forward; have clean, streamlined policies that are easily accessible; offer mental health and psychiatric services; and engage in an active, on-going conversation with students.
That we still have these goals is a reflection of how much the University still needs to do. Durham might market itself as a ‘safe place’, but only without taking into account the significant rates of sexual violence that it experiences. Universities all around the country suffer with this problem, which is why the statistics are nationwide. But Durham could be doing so much more. It should be able to offer its prospective students safety, education and support. It should be holding consent workshops at least as regularly as it holds fire safety talks. We hope that our student campaign, however small it may be, can continue to work with the University and the Sexual Violence Task Force to provide a safer and more reliable space in which to study and live.