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50% of female KU students experience sexual assault

By Meka Beresford Nov 3, 2016
Sexual violence is rife across the country. (Photo by John Powell/REX/Shutterstock)

Nearly half of female Kingston students have experienced an incident of sexual assault, according to a survey by The River.

The study showed that of those who said they had been sexually assaulted, 44 per cent knew the assailant who committed the act.

Shockingly, more than one in five of those surveyed who experienced sexual assault reported the crime to the police, University or another authority.

More than half the female students reported that they had experienced sexual harassment, including catcalling, slut shaming or inappropriate comments online. Only one in eight of those reported the case.

Hareem Ghani, NUS women’s officer, said sexual harassment and sexual violence were a national problem.

“One in four women will experience sexual harassment during their time at university and two women will be killed this week by a current or an ex-partner.

“These are horrifying statistics and people need to wake up to this reality. I would go as far as to argue that we have a national crisis concerning sexual abuse.

“We can’t afford to ignore the fact that those who experience sexual violence at university experience mental health issues.

“They often have to take a break from their course, or drop out of their course altogether. Thus, if you are using the logic of ‘university simply equates to a degree’ then equal access is being ignored completely.”

Over 350 current female students took part in the survey across Kingston Hill, Knight’s Park and Penrhyn Road campuses, as well as online over the last week. Students were asked to fill out a short survey which asked individuals whether they had experienced sexual harassment, and whether they reported it.

Respondents were asked if they had ever experienced sexual assault, defined as anything from unwanted touching to groping to rape, and whether they reported it.

Many respondents hid their answers as they filled in the survey when friends looked over their shoulders. Some people asked to contact the paper to follow up in private as they were concerned about being judged by their peers.

A number of women said they were unaware of what sexual assault was and a few denied the existence of it.

Embarrassment, shame and the thought of being ignored were all common fears amongst the 174 girls who experienced a form of sexual assault.

Students were given the option to explain why they did not report instances of sexual assault. Many said it was because they thought it was not significant enough.

A number of girls “did not want to get their attacker into trouble”, and many were “too young” too understand.

One student said: “I didn’t even realise it was categorised as rape at the time. I said no but I thought because I didn’t scream and shout and stop him that it was then my fault.”

One student who experienced sexual harassment at her workplace said the incident had driven her to demand more respect. “I’m not your sexy to call. Appreciate me, respect me for who I am,” she said.

“Women are hyper-sexualised all the time, we’re taught how to look good and what’s deemed sexy and empowering to males. If you want to embrace it then own it, but don’t let someone define you as who you are because you’re not an object of lust. You shouldn’t be objectified.”

Another student neglected to report her sexual assault because she was friends with the assailant. She said: “I didn’t report it because the assaulter was a former friend of mine and I know he felt bad once he understood I didn’t want to him to touch me.

“There is an extremely fine line between these things and in my case I know it would more bad than good if I reported the incident. I have not been traumatised by the incident, but I found it extremely uncomfortable in the following week.”

One student was assaulted on her own front door when a delivery driver touched her. The student reported the incident, but the company never followed up on the case.

However, in almost all cases, the females who were surveyed were not fazed by their assault. “This is our normal,” said one student.

Universities UK (UUK) are releasing new guidance for universities on the reporting of sexual offences after a series of studies showed victims were reluctant to speak out.

The Government has also convened a separate task force looking into sexual violence at universities.

Penrhyn Road Officer Daisy Du Toit was shocked by the results. She said: “I’m horrified. It is disgusting that we still live in a patriarchal structure where not only do these acts happen, but that they also go unreported due to the perceived lack of support.”

Du Toit said she was open to the idea of student motions being put forward to help students feel safer and more supported while reporting sexual violence.

“I don’t think we’ll ever have the perfect reporting system,” she added. “Regardless as to whether it’s the University or the bigger world outside. However it doesn’t mean that we can’t improve what we already have in place.

“In an ideal world, prevention is better than the cure and I would like to see more sexual consent workshops going on around campus. Students should be actually engaging in these conversations and therefore we need to create safe platforms for these discussions to happen.

“We are here for you, and we are here to support you and put systems in place in order to help prevent.”

The recent case of Brock Turner in the US saw Turner serve a three month sentence, despite facing up to 14 years after he raped a fellow student on campus. 

The case caused outrage across the globe when Turner was given a lenient sentence because he was a “promising swimmer” with a bright future.

Closer to home, a student at Keele University, who alleged had been raped by a fellow undergraduate, committed suicide after plunging into a deep depression. 

The student’s family claimed that she took her life because her case was not dealt with correctly by the police and university. 

In the case of Ched Evans, the victim’s sexual history was put under scrutiny by the police and crime commissioner for Northumbria and former solicitor general Vera Baird, who said the trial set the law back 30 years.

A Kingston University spokesperson said: “The personal safety of students and staff is taken extremely seriously and harassment of any form will not be tolerated.

“The Student Wellbeing service offers a wide range of support to any student who may be experiencing harassment of any kind – with confidential drop-in advice, counselling, other emotional support and onward referral to further services.

“The University has a team of staff based at the Student Life Centre who can advise students who wish to make an official complaint or report an incident. Confidential support is also available through the Harassment Contact Scheme where students and staff can speak with a trained harassment contact volunteer.

By Meka Beresford

Meka Beresford studies Journalism at Kingston and is News Editor of The River. She enjoys the finer things in life; Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Wu-Tang and halloumi. During the weekends, Meka can be found writing for PinkNews.

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