I was talking to a friend about somebody who had been raped, and their first response was ‘Was she actually raped, or did she decide the next day that she didn’t want to have sex?’, which really angered me, and really disgusted me actually.
Too many sexual assaults go unreported on campus. I set up my campaign #RevoltSexualAssault to give survivors a voice
“I set up @revolt_assault to address the epidemic of sexual assault at universities in the UK, and the lack of support in place. I’m so in awe of all the amazingly strong students that share their stories for our campaign. Now it’s my turn” – read @_hanprice’s story in the @guardian today (you can find the link on our Facebook and Twitter accounts!) #ItsRevolting
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.
Sexual assault among students at universities is something that happens regularly but is talked about rarely. A campaign aims to give students back their voice and to inform universities on how best to tackle the problem.
While at university, I and many of my friends were sexually assaulted on a regular basis. This can be a tough statement to accept for some people, but virtually every woman (and some men, too) can unfortunately confirm that it is true.
Sexual assault doesn’t just mean rape in a dark alley by a stranger – it’s groping on a night out, inappropriate comments or being pressured by a friend or partner into a sexual act.
Misconceptions around consent, sexual assault and even rape are inescapable and far too common. It’s almost become normalised, an accepted part of student life.
Report rates at universities in the UK are shockingly low and are not representative of the scale of this epidemic. How do you report sexual assault and harassment when the perpetrator is a friend or a friend of a friend, and you could bump into them at any time?
Second year student.
The first time I experienced sexual assault was when I was 16 years old, when my boyfriend at the time raped me in his spare closet.
The second time I experienced sexual assault was when I was 17 years old, when after dropping off a boy at home, he forced my face into his bare lap.
The third time I experienced sexual assault was when I was 19 years old, when a boy at university trapped me in his room and raped me.
The fourth time I experienced sexual assault was in the past year, I am 21 years old. A coworker came to my home and raped me.
This video was the first story I heard during the campaign. It turned into one of many that I would go on to hear that fitted this narrative. So why is it one that we don’t hear about all the time?
Sexual assault. Those two words side by side are enough to send a chill right through you. Say it aloud and two words become a powerful statement, with potentially serious consequences. Yet the report rate for both sexual assault and harassment is staggeringly low.
We’ve been taught since a young age to assume a singular narrative of sexual assault – if you’re out alone, late at night, you’re putting yourself at risk of an attack.
Because of this when most people think of sexual assault or rape they think of a dark alley, with a hooded stranger waiting in the shadows.
But when you talk to someone that has suffered a serious sexual assault about the issue, 90% of the time they think of someone they know.
Sexual assault is happening. Everywhere. Regardless of lighting conditions, or familiarity with the perpetrator or whether you’re in a baggy t-shirt and trackies or dressed to the nines. It’s happening in the comfort of people’s homes, in everyday settings, carried out by loves one you are supposed to be able to trust.
The problem starts with education… When you think back to your sex education, do you remember learning anything about consent – other than no means no?
I don’t. I remember a banana and a condom, and the predictable response to that from a room full of teenagers. But what good is knowing how to put a condom on, if you are then ‘stealthed’ by your sexual partner?
For some reason the assumption that if you are unfortunate enough to experience sexual assault or harassment, it won’t be from someone you know, is both dangerous and confusing.
These myths and misconceptions about sexual assault lead many of us to not realise or even acknowledge that we have been sexual assaulted.
The frequency of victim blaming, especially when the survivor is female, is waaaaaay too prevalent. Why was she out alone at night? What if she was wearing more appropriate clothing? Should she have been drinking?
These, quite frankly, ignorant comments have resulted in a huge epidemic of self-blame, saturated in every account of sexual assault that I have been told throughout the campaign. ‘I shouldn’t have drunk alcohol’, ‘I shouldn’t have gone home with him’, ‘maybe I encouraged that behaviour?’
Going home with someone doesn’t mean you have to sleep with them if you change your mind. Even going home with someone and sleeping with them does not mean you have to consent again. And it certainly doesn’t mean you have to have sex with them WHILE YOU’RE UNCONSCIOUS. Because that’s rape. And I shouldn’t be having to remind these brave women that this is the case.
That’s what these casual, victim blaming remarks, are brainwashing women to think!
If you’ve not been hiding under a rock, you will have seen the allegations that have surfaced against Kevin Spacey. It’s so refreshing to see so many males coming forward on this issue, as it is equally as hard for them to speak out about assault, and its abuse that affects both genders.
While victim blaming is prevalent amongst both sexes, when in the extensive media coverage of these accusations against Spacey, where have you seen/read/heard off-the-hand observations about the clothes that the male victims were wearing, or the amount of alcohol they had consumed? I’ll tell you where, nowhere.
When someone tells you they were mugged, how often do you tell them they were reckless for walking alone, or asking for it for wearing a watch?
You might however have seen commentators try to explain, even justify, Spacey’s behaviour by claiming he had too much alcohol. We are always quick to assume the perpetrator who carries out acts of sexual assault has some explainable ‘excuse’.
So in the case of sexual assault, why do these insignificant details take centre stage over the huge trauma a women has just experienced, or the support that she needs following her bravery in coming forward?
Third year student.
‘So, I was out with my friends in first year and the next morning I woke up in bed naked with a stranger and I had a black eye, bruises all over my body.
My drink had been spiked and I had been raped vaginally, orally and forcefully.
The stranger turned out to be another student at the university, in my year, in my faculty.
I reported it to the police and the university.
He couldn’t explain the bruises and the black eye, but there wasn’t enough evidence to continue 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.
For example, it’s me who has to check whether I share an exam hall with him and if I do I have to explain, normally to a new member of staff, what happened so that they change the room for me. I had to change gyms, I’ve never been on the university ski trip.
Rape is revolting and so was the way I was treated after. Something really needs to change.’
This is where it all began… As a student journalist, I wanted to expose the epidemic levels of sexual assault and harassment at universities in the UK and give a voice to sexual violence survivors. Now here we are, addressing those levels and campaigning for change (with a better hashtag #ItsRevolting).
You can read the original article here on our blog, as Epigram, the University of Bristol’s independent student newspaper, is experiencing some technical difficulties with their website.
Originally published in Epigram on 11th May 2017.
Our Online Editor Hannah Price carried out a Snapchat project that spotlights the sexual abuse, sexual harassment and sexism that lurks beneath the surface of university life.
We live in a generation where morphing your face into an alien, an animal or even your friend is completely normal. We have Bitmojis that look more like us than we do when we wake up in the morning.
We also live in a society where someone groping you is just as normal. When did the latter happen and why?
Social media is second nature to millennials. Snapchat is a platform that is led by us. While we’ve mastered the filters, the media and businesses have been trying to work out a way to utilise the selfie-taking phenomenon. What if it could be used to powerfully humanise and address more serious issues?
In India they did just that. Using Snapchat, two rape victims captured their stories while still abiding by their country’s restrictive laws in a sombre yet liberating way. The app extraordinarily allowed for raw emotion to radiate through their masked identities. This inspired me into thinking about how, as the generation that has propelled Snapchat into success, we could use a similar innovative approach to highlight and humanise sexual assault on campus.
And that’s exactly what I tried to do with this #RevoltAgainstSexualAssault article.
There was nervous laughter and a few tears as myself and each student picked out a disguise that both captured and empowered their feelings of discontent, anger and pain. However, behind the flower crowns and puppy ears, I watched as the face-tracking software magically boosted their confidence, easing them just enough to find their voice.
Each story that was portrayed through a series of snaps proved to be a tough watch, even beneath a filter, yet, startlingly, the most jarring element of the video project was unseen. When I met with each volunteer, the same question was posed to me: ‘Which incident do I talk about?’, I was asked again and again. The silence that followed is what has stuck with me; the moment where we both soundlessly acknowledged that the distressing account they had chosen was just one of many – without even a sigh of surprise.
Lines seem to be blurred as to what is classed as sexual assault, so let’s be clear – the term refers to forced sexual contact or behaviour, that occurs without explicit consent of the victim, and applies to both women and men. This ranges from rape to unwanted fondling, both of which is addressed by Bristol students that took part in this campaign.
Speaking to me after the completion of the video a Masters student, who wished to remain anonymous, highlighted the importance of sharing her story of sexual assault,
‘While my female friends are always supportive they are never really surprised, but my male friends are. I don’t think they really realise how prevalent this is.’
For many, university is a young person’s first time living independently as an adult. The student bubble differs hugely to any typical school or work-place environment – you are suddenly living, eating, studying and socialising with your peers; day in, day out. This, of course, can provide the perfect setting for a great student experience. However, escapism is much harder to come by, therefore if you find yourself as a victim of a crime you are suddenly far more vulnerable. How do you speak out if the chances of running into your attacker are so high?
That isn’t where the turmoil ends. Throughout all areas of life there are obstacles that make discussing and dealing with sexual assault extremely distressing. For example, the ‘you asked for it’ blame game whereby a female’s attire and alcohol intake takes centre-stage, rather than the traumatising events that they have just endured. This is exacerbated at university, because many assaults happen in a club environment, making victim-blaming all the more common.
During the opening snaps a volunteer speaks on behalf of a Bristol student who was assaulted by her flatmate’s boyfriend, in the safety of her own halls of residence. She draws attention to the hypocrisy of the, ‘it was your fault’ stigma by recounting that the perpetrator, in this instance, justified his actions with ‘substance abuse’.
Less than a week ago, on Tuesday 2 May, a Bristol University student was sexually assaulted, in broad day light, whilst walking past Beacon House. The 22-year-old women spoke to Epigram about the ordeal,
‘We all tell women not to go by themselves to quiet places late at night, but I was with a friend, surrounded by people, in a ‘safe’ area, and during the day. Surely that’s enough to prove that the focus should be shifted from having to protect yourself from being sexually assaulted, to telling boys never to attack women?’
I’m not sure when it happened but sexual assault seems to have become ‘normalised’, within the university environment. The dangers of indifference can easily be overlooked, but should not be underestimated.
It has become less and less common to openly discuss sexual assault because, for many students, it has become the equivalent of a shoulder shrug – an accepted part of everyday life. While using Snapchat could come across as ‘trivial’ for such a serious topic, the stories are presented in a format that we are all so familiar with to starkly contrast ‘normality’ with the severity of the problem.
Several students in the video address the indifference towards sexual assault by recalling the ridicule they received when they objected to groping and harassment. A third-year student reported, ‘The more angry I got, they just laughed in my face’.
So, it is unsurprising that many have accepted these type of actions as ‘normal’.
All of this seems to have gagged us into staying silent, but if the conversation stops how can the myths behind the subject be dispelled?
During the project, the gravity of hearing the word ‘rape’ aloud really resonated with our viewers. Sarah Redrup, choosing no filter, candidly disclosed details about her attacks:
‘Since being a student here I’ve been raped again 3 times and assaulted a lot. Every time it’s happened it’s been someone that I know, I like, I love and that I see all the time.’
The use of the word rape immediately sparked a discussion and opened the eyes of many about the darker aspects of university life, previously unseen, hinting at the promise that more conversation could come.
An anonymous student from the video told Epigram, ‘hearing about the project made me acknowledge what had happened last year. It kind of made me have acceptance for something that I had blamed myself for, for such a long time and made me realise that there are so many other people in the same position’.
While another anonymous contributor shared how the experience affected her:
Telling my story anonymously has been so empowering and I’ve felt safe and in control the whole time.
‘When i was raped I felt so alone and unsupported. I thought bad things like sexual assault didn’t happen to girls like me… I didn’t know how to talk about rape and that made dealing with all my emotions so much more difficult.
‘Establishing safety and control have been significant parts of my recovery process and this was yet another step. The police and the university need to change the way they deal with sexual assault cases.
‘I really believe this project will make them ask more questions and take a more active approach in reforming their systems.’
The six-minute video that we have created, with the help of brave, strong women only touches the surface of the problem facing us, and is far from the full picture or scale of this epidemic.
A male survivor reached out after hearing about the project,
I’m not sure how to write this but I want to say thank you, the article you wrote has touched me, but also as a male survivor, I’m glad to see such articles are appearing and that the voice is being raised to say, ‘No, no more, not again’. And thank you for saying it can happen to men as well – that means a lot!’
In a better world, I would have been writing about a video that showcased the untouched faces of the beautiful, intelligent students that sat across the room from me, and as they looked into the camera you would be seeing the same emotion in their eyes that I saw.
Yet, right now, victims’ voices are being suppressed by the environment we have created. But, even underneath the extra layer of filters and emojis, you can see that these women are not just statistics, they are real, and you can hear what they are trying to tell you loud and clear.
If you or someone you know has been sexually assaulted, you can seek help by calling Rape Crisis England and Wales on 0808 802 9999. For more resources on sexual assault, visit The Survivor Pathway and SupportLine.
Share your stories in the comments or via social media links below or confidentially email email@example.com.