I am deeply distressed and seriously angry at what is happening to our young women on University campuses today. I have written about this before in my book, Diva Wisdom, and I was shocked then when I researched this subject.
Today as the rape culture intensifies I am in despair.
This rape culture and misogyny is in the news again this week as another young woman in her prime, Hannah Stubbs took her own life following a serious sexual assault by a fellow undergraduate at Keele University in Staffordshire. Her parents have slammed the University for failing to support her. Unfortunately this is not a one off incident. The stories coming out of University about rape, initiations around freshers week, ‘slut shaming’ and the behaviours, attitudes, and sexism emitting from many male lecturers is alarming.
Let’s be clear this is more than a bit of sexual banter during freshers week; this is an all out assault on women. Statistics out this week indicate at least 1 in 3 women have been seriously sexually assaulted whilst at University, yet the National Union of Student’s Lad Culture Audit Report (yes, the fact we even have one of these is evidence enough eh?) revealed that only 51% of universities have a formal policy on sexual harassment.
So not only are our girls being exploited, they are quite literally left out in the cold, alone with little support and comfort after the alleged event. Not surprisingly it follows, that fewer than half of the elite universities in the UK even bother to monitor the extent of sexual violence against students, and only one in six have specific guidelines on how to report sexual harassment or rape. All of this means young women simply do not report crimes, have no where to go to talk about what happened to them, and feel totally isolated and somehow at fault when they are the victim of unwanted sexual attention and abuse.
How do we expect our bright young women, the next generation of leaders, law makers and innovators, to blossom in this environment? Do they have to develop thick skins and a special kind of resilience to stay the course? Do they become immune to such a highly sexed environment where only the strong survive? Or do they walk away damaged as they are forced to accept they are simply sexual objects where anything goes and their rights are secondary?
University is supposed to be an enlightening time when we discover who we are, shape our identities and immerse ourselves in learning and exploration before making our way into the big bad world.
What are we teaching our young women? That the world is a misogynistic bear pit and you need to put out and shut up to get on?
I share many stories from girls in my book, but let me leave you with this one – just in case you are teetering on the edge of denial. One of the most worrying aspects of this male behaviour is that it is celebrated and endorsed by many male lecturers, professors and staff, who set a less than positive example to young men and who control the power base.
‘ I was 19 and went on an education trip out of town. We all had some drinks and I accidentally locked myself out of my hotel room and knocked on the trip leader’s room to get some help. I trusted him. He asked me in and after I had thrown up everywhere, he invited me to sleep in his bed with him. I passed out and woke up to him licking my vagina. I was confused and afraid. In the morning I realised he had raped me when I was unconscious. I was covered in bruises and in pain. I told the university and several members of staff blamed me for drinking. The rapist told all my friends I was a slut and I wanted it. No one believed me and people just thought I was trying to get attention. That was 3 years ago and I still haven’t reported it to the police.’
Distressing eh? We need to get to grips with this situation fast. Universities must take a zero tolerance approach to all sexual harassment and implement policies and education programmes to ensure both young men and women know the consequences of this behaviour and young women must be supported to speak up so we can help them and reveal the true extent of this exploitation to ensure as a nation we are shamed into action.
If I had a daughter embarking on the university journey anytime soon my questions to the establishments on her wish list would not just focus on the academic and social life on campus. I would be asking them how pro-active they are in this area and how sure can I be that my daughter will be safe? Do they have a policy on sexual harassment? Do they issue guidelines on how to report allegations of harassment and what their track record is in this area?
If you are brave enough, check out more true accounts of abuse and violence from young women at universities all over the UK submitted to the Everyday Sexism project at @everydaysexism – it is an eye opener of epic proportions!