Telling us to ‘be vigilant’ isn’t enough, UoB should do more to prevent harassment in Selly

Our safety should be a priority

Crime in Selly Oak seems to have stepped up a notch this year, with a pretty big increase of girls being harassed if they’re walking home at night. What are the Guild and the University doing to prevent this from happening? In my opinion, not enough.

According to Housing and Community Officer Izzie Nicholds, as a part of the ‘See it, Concerned, Report It’ Campaign, so far the Guild has spread information via safety flyers and the internet, and worked with the police and the Community Wardens to hand out “practical safety advice and gear attack”. The police have also increased their patrols “massively” and have held additional road shows in which they have given out free personal safety alarms. Self-defence classes are also being offered.

Nicholds, last month, also informed me that they were also introducing a scheme with a very catchy name: ‘Why walk alone when you can walk with others’, which would be a walking bus from the library. I was told it would leave every hour on the hour from 10pm onwards from the 14th of February. Unfortunately, I haven’t seen any evidence of this walking bus, no posts on any Guild Facebook page and no information anywhere in the library. If this walking bus is actually happening, I don’t think enough people are aware.

This was their best idea yet, because it is actually doing something to help vulnerable students walking home at night. Alas, the one thing that seems to really be removing students from harm’s way doesn’t seem to be happening. At this point, our only protection so far are the snazzy new rape alarms that have been handed out.

Yes, I am extraordinarily grateful for my rape alarm, but when I’m power walking home from a seminar by myself at night and clutching it in my pocket, I can’t help but think that if a man wanted to overpower me, he probably wouldn’t really care about what sounds like the loud and incessant chirping of an annoying bird. The difference between assault and protection is rarely a loud noise. The difference between assault and protection is rarely a few words of advice from a community warden about not walking home with headphones in. If someone wants to assault a girl walking home by themselves, giving her a beeping device and telling her to be safe isn’t going to protect her.

This girl needs police officers actually patrolling our streets when the sun has already set. This girl needs pepper spray. This girl needs assurance by the Guild and the university that is backed by evidence of actual action. The work of the Guild so far is obviously appreciated, but when we’re promised schemes such as the walking bus that aren’t made obvious, I can’t help but feel disappointment. The safety of our students should be a priority, and we need to see confirmation that the Guild is actually doing something to remove them from harm’s way, rather than expecting vulnerable girls to protect themselves from pervy men.

stay safe folks

This kind of situation is not like us asking for more study spaces, or cheaper VKs. It should not be in the same category of something the Guild is working on but keep falling short. If dozens of students have already been touched inappropriately on their walks home from uni, and the Guild still don’t appear to be pushing a safety scheme forward with all that they’ve got, then what can we really expect from them in the future.

The university itself is yet to actually answer my email about what they’re doing to help protect us in Selly Oak. From over a month ago. They’re working with the Guild yes, but I wanted to know exactly what they had to say about the lovely town most of their students live in.

Since I got no response, I had to go onto the UoB Intranet to see if they had anything to say about safety in Selly. They have one (three-year-old) page on safety, where they’ve written a little statement which I think we all whole heartedly agree with. “The University of Birmingham is a great place to live and work and has a very low crime rate”. Lol okay sure, maybe someone needs to update the uni as to what the definition of ‘low crime rate’ is.

They continue with: “a small amount of opportunist crime does occur however” – brilliant, not totally delusional then – “and in the vast majority of cases, these are avoidable if students take simple precautions.”

I’m just going to repeat that so we can all allow it to sink in.

“In the vast majority of cases, these are avoidable if students take simple precautions.”

 

Simple precautions. I’m not even joking, this is copied and pasted from the intranet. It seems like the university is suggesting the “vast majority” of the crimes carried out in Selly Oak are pretty much caused because we don’t use basic measures of protection. Yes, they’re probably talking about students leaving their front doors open and allowing robbers easy access, but sexual assault has always been one of the main types of crime committed in Selly.

I’d like to know what kind of precautions the university expects us to take against sexual attacks. They are not providing us with alternatives to walking home in the dark. As the uni’s Women’s Association has stated: “It is important in the society we live in to remember that walking home late at night can be dangerous”, but it is “not a woman’s responsibility to moderate her behaviour to avoid harm” – nor any victim of assault. Therefore, the level of victim blaming behaviour displayed by the university is, in the words of its own campaign, most certainly ‘Not On’. Insinuating that by walking home from a late lecture in the dark I am not taking the precautions of protecting myself is genuinely bullshit. I’d take self-defence classes at the Guild, but the last one I signed up for was cancelled.

It’s a shame, you can tell that they mean well, but they are way too reliant on just telling us to be vigilant rather than working with the police to prevent the crimes from occurring in the first place. By depending on us to prevent sexual attacks they perpetrate the idea that the victim is at fault when attacks occur. Ideas like the walking bus are a step in the right direction though, but at the end of the day, the idea fell short.

New Housing and Community Officer, Kris Ali, has spoken to us about how me plans to keep Selly Oak safer for students. Ali has stated: “I believe the University has an obligation to keep us safe and I will work with UoB security teams to increase patrols in Selly Oak at high risk time periods and their presence alone should help to keep criminals from loitering around and planning personal attacks, burglaries etc.” What are his initiatives? “I plan to introduce a Selly security line, where you can anonymously tip off suspicious activity straight to the security who can deal with any issue within minutes, this will deter potential criminals from loitering and therefore keep us much safer. Also, CCTV would be a great solution however it is very expensive to fund and operate.”

According to the University of Birmingham Annual Report and Accounts 2015-2016, the university turned over a surplus of over £80 million after tax. Realistically, how much does it actually cost to take the precautions of allowing us to walk home safely? So, let’s all be optimists and hope that some money will be laid out for student safety this year.

We can dream. Yes, the Guild and the uni appear to be attempting to protect us at night, which we should all be grateful for. Unfortunately, these efforts still seem to be dependent on telling us how to look after ourselves in a dangerous area rather than offering us actual alternatives to walking home alone in the dark. Especially in the last couple of months there was a recent spike in sightings of potential attackers. With knives. The Guild and the uni need to seriously up their game – they have a lot going on but our safety should always be their priority, and their recent record of rape alarms and advice is honestly not enough to prevent assault in Selly. Honestly, try harder.

(Quick reminder: if anything does happen to you or a friend in Selly Oak, whether it’s just someone acting a bit creepy or genuine assault, please please please report it to the police. Posting on the Fab n Fresh page is also a great way of getting the news around fast once you’ve reported to the police. The Police surgery inside Uni Centre always has personal safety alarms, if you haven’t got one go get one ASAP. Stay safe people.)

 

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