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The Reality of the Student Experience When it Comes to Sexual Harassment

CW: Mentions of sexual harassment, assault and rape.

I recently wrote a print article for Impact, where I investigated the reality of sexual assault across campus. You can find the link to the print edition here, and my article is on page 6. 

I'm writing this post as a plead to universities to do better for their students. 

It is worrying how common sexual assault can be a part of the university experience. In particular, female and non-binary students have to deal with the trauma of sexual assault as part of our student life - this isn't something you see mentioned in the glossy prospectuses. I'm calling out the University of Nottingham, but also all UK universities - they need to provide better support for their victims, and update their reporting systems.

It was both deeply upsetting and terrifying when I collected anonymous submissions from students about their experiences of sexual assault and harassment whilst at university. Almost every victim had written that they hadn't reported what happened to them, and the one person who did received no help from the uni. 

The current reporting system in place at Nottingham involves sending an email detailing what you are reporting, and results in a panel making the ultimate decision on what happens to your case, including the choice to dismiss it altogether and take no action. This outdated system involves exposing the victim to the pain of reliving their experiences, with no guaranteed outcome of support. 

Although sexual assault can happen at any time, and in any place, my research found that it is most likely to happen during freshers week. Clubs are notorious for harassment and assault, and every time I went out (pre COVID), I expected to experience some form of sexual harassment. 

Most students feel that we are unable to report sexual assault that happens on campus because we feel that the process of reporting is not worth the outcome. The current system doesn't allow victims any anonymity or dignity. The fact that the review panel has the final say over how to proceed with the case, rather than the victim also shows how the University doesn't take into account the victim's needs. 

A recent survey conducted by the Higher Education Policy institute found that 58% of students supported the idea of having a compulsory consent test when entering university. This would involve having to pass the test in order to be let into the uni, so that every student would have a decent understanding of boundaries and consent when it comes to sex. 

I think that the way women are raised in society sometimes mean that we find it hard to directly say "no" to things that we don't want, because we are afraid of displeasing the people in our lives. The way that some cis-het men are raised mean that they feel entitled to sex whenever they want, and don't understand how to check in with their partners. This has led to the normalisation of rape culture, which is particularly amplified by porn, and the lack of adequate sex education in schools. 

Universities need to take proper steps to not only reform reporting systems, but to also educate their students on the importance of consent and boundaries. Sometimes it can take victims a while to recognise that what happened to them was sexual assault, and this education would benefit them too, allowing them to process and deal with their trauma early on, and hopefully ensuring they feel more comfortable to report to the university.