Assault, Rape

I didn’t tell anyone I was raped at university. I’m not alone – Hannah’s Editorial

Too many sexual assaults go unreported on campus. I set up my campaign #RevoltSexualAssault to give survivors a voice

 

When I was a student, I was pressured into having sex. Like many others, when it happened I believed the entire experience was my fault and wasn’t serious enough to share. I said no to him multiple times, but I still felt responsible. I was left feeling dirty, violated and ashamed.

I’d been on a social with other students. Towards the end of the night when I was tired and ready to leave, one guy offered to walk me home. He said he lived near me. It seemed safer than walking alone.

When we arrived at my house, he asked if he could come inside and grab a glass of water. I felt a little unease but thought nothing of it. There was no sign it would end in him refusing to leave until we had sex.

He seemed to gain more confidence with every sip of water. First came his requests to go to my bedroom, which I repeatedly rebuffed. Then came the inappropriate comments and suggestions that I was “asking for it” and “wanted it” because I let him in.

As soon as I said I wasn’t interested, he became aggressive. He grabbed my arm so hard it left a mark that would linger for days. It was then that I really noticed our size difference, and the position I’d put myself in.

I tried and tried to get him to leave. But he became more forceful. It was strange, feeling so vulnerable in my own home.

Now, in the rational light of day, I could list endless ways I could have got him to leave. But in that cloud of fear, it felt as if yielding was my only option. He removed my tights. When he was done, he finally left.

It turned out he didn’t live nearby, and his intention was never to get me safely home.

My university experience was far from unique. As a student journalist, I wanted to find a way to highlight the scale of this epidemic, but finding people who were comfortable enough to publicly share their experiences was difficult. For the same reason I said nothing, no one wanted to report their stories. It’s not easy when the perpetrator is someone who shares your study, living and socialising spaces. Running into them is inevitable.

It was then that I read about two rape survivors in India who anonymously shared details of their rapes through Snapchat. I was inspired to think about how we could use social media platforms to highlight and humanise the issue of sexual assault on campus.

Revolt Sexual Assault is a national campaign I set up to expose the truth about the nature and extent of sexual assault and harassment experienced by students in the UK. Using Snapchat’s face-tracking software, students can choose to apply filters, facial and vocal obscuration to conceal their identity; this ensures each student feels safe and in control while sharing their stories.

So far, I have heard too many stories of students waking up in the night to find that their partner or the person they went home with had been having sex with them while they were unconscious. These individuals often feel unable to call it rape. Alcohol and drugs are frequently used as an excuse or explanation. Or victims blame themselves. Approximately 90% of those who are raped know the perpetrator.

With each testimonial, we hope to give survivors a voice, and to shed light on the “insignificant” details. From these stories – and my own experience – it is apparent that universities often don’t have the specialist policies in place for students to get the support they need.

One student explained how, after being raped and bruised by another student, the university offered no support. “I reported it to the police and the university, but there wasn’t enough evidence so they dropped the case. The university sent me a letter regarding the ‘serious allegations’ I’d made against another student. It made me feel like I was the criminal. I had to change gyms; I’ve never been on the university ski trip. The way I was treated was revolting.”

Another student told us about walking home with a friend after a night out. “I was never intending for anything to happen but he kept pushing me for more. I said no to him but he replied: ‘It’s not rape, you want this’.”

We have launched a national survey on this issue in partnership with The Student Room. It will produce robust statistical evidence, revealing the nature and extent of sexual assault and harassment experienced by students. The data will help us to campaign for a uniform national policy response, and compel university communities to accept the ugly, uncomfortable truth.

I hope that by setting up this campaign we can create a new minimum standard of care for students who experience sexual violence. Universities need a separate policy for sexual violence disciplinary hearings – currently, many apply the same procedures for cheating in an exam to a rape allegation. Consent and bystander training for students should be compulsory, and universities need specialist support in place: many institutions have no trained staff or specific policy for sexual violence, and the report rates are shockingly low.

Those who have shared their experiences with #ItsRevolting found that taking part helped them come to terms with what happened, and believed they had helped others in doing so. One participant told me: “Telling my story anonymously has been so empowering and I’ve felt safe and in control the whole time.”

Originally published in The Guardian.

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