CW: sexual assault
Disclaimer: The views expressed within this article are entirely the author’s own and are not attributable to Wessex Scene as a whole.
Posters reading ‘End police violence, end male violence‘ and ‘Justice 4 Sarah, 4 women, 4 all’ have been installed on bus-stops around Highfield Campus. They highlight the recent tragic murder of Sarah Everard which has brought attention to a UN Women UK investigation that 97% of women aged 18-24 have experienced sexual harassment, 96% of which did not report it.
In recent years, occurrences of assault and harassment on University campuses have dramatically spiked. In reaction, Sisters Uncut, Reclaim The Night and other gender-based violence NGOs organised vigils over Mother’s Day weekend. These events were planned to be socially-distanced with enforced mask-wearing, however, local police authorities opposed the activities and refused any comprise that would allow the events to go ahead. Nonetheless, this didn’t stop people from showing up to mourn the 188 women and girls who were murdered between April 2019 and March 2020.
What followed at the Reclaim the Streets vigil on Clapham Common – the site where Sarah was last seen on 3rd March – was clashes between protesters and police that culminated with four arrests and several fines being issued. To see women who attended vigils to raise awareness of violence against women be so roughly man-handled was distressing, but it is not the first occasion in which police tactics have been put in the spotlight for excessive violence.
Compare the scenes at Clapham Common to what occurred in the packed streets of Glasgow last week after the Rangers won. Yet, despite the rallies for the Rangers, vigils at both St Andrews Square and Holyrood were promptly shut down at discussion stage. Scotland Yard understood that intervening with the football fanatics would have escalated the situation, so instead opted to allow them to celebrate and slowly disperse. It seems ludicrous that football fans were allowed to break social distancing rules to celebrate a victory, while women were forcibly removed from a peaceful memorial.
Right now, debates are happening in Parliament as to what would be effective in stopping assaults. The conclusion reached? Build more street lights, install more CCTV cameras and give more money to the police. Given the context of Sarah Everard’s murder – a woman who was last seen wearing bright clothing and running shoes, in a well-lit area before 10pm – do any of us really believe the problem is poorly-lit streets? I don’t think more police can resolve any issue, and given the scenes of last weekend, more people are catching onto this.
Perhaps the only resolution is a larger conversation that is uncomfortable for everyone, involving taking accountability and confronting the violence that is perpetrated against women every day. Too often, survivors’ voices are discredited or even silenced. No one is comfortable talking about how assault and harassment rates are at a pandemic level, but without changing community perceptions on the topic, nothing will change. Hopefully, something as simple as passing a message every day on a bus-stop will remind people how critical the need to change the narrative is.
Everybody deserves to feel safe, wherever they are – be that in residential halls or private buildings, on campus or public streets.
If you feel affected by anything discussed, there are a number of resources to help, provided both by the university and external organisations:
- If you feel at immediate risk of harm to yourself, go to your nearest A&E department or call the Emergency Services on 999.
- University Report + Support programme for victims of harassment, discrimination or hate.
- Call Student Life 24/7 on 02380 598 180 and University Security at +44 (0)23 80592811
- The Rape and Sexual Assault Centre 24hour Helpline: 01962 868 688 or 01962 864 433.
- The Survivors Trust Helpline: 020 3598 3898 (Same open hours as online chat).
- Yellow Door Helpline: 023 8063 6313 (Wednesday 4-7pm).
- Safeline Helpline: 0808 800 5008
- National Stalking Helpline: 0808 802 0300
- Southampton student support group chats – message FemSoc on Instagram, twitter or Facebook for more information.