In Defence of Common Sense

JAMES MITCHELL responds to the comments which met Saturday’s article about sexual assault.

Cambridge james mitchell Men reclaim the night safe at night sexual assault women's campaign

I was told that my great grandmother was a huge fan of all-in wrestling. When my mother, then a child, asked her what it was about the sport she enjoyed so much, my great grandmother replied: “Men are violent and cause wars. I like to see them hurt each other”.

After reading the comments section beneath Eleanor Costello’s article on sexual assault, it’s hard to disagree with her.

In case you have not yet read her article, let me recap: an eighteen year old woman (who has admitted to being sexually abused in the past) wrote an article in which she described entering a late night take-away restaurant under the influence of alcohol. A man employed at the outlet, recognising that she was drunk, came out from behind the counter to kiss her. The woman half remembered the incident the following morning, felt violated, and went to the police – only to be told that the CCTV cameras suggests it might have been consensual.

One of the shameful comments described her as an “incontinent child… [who] doesn’t want to take responsibility for her anti-social behaviour”. The ‘top’ comment, before it was removed, called her an “evil bitch”.

Clearly I must have developed an entirely different perspective on things as I approach my mid-twenties, but I am appalled. It bears repeating that we are dealing with a vulnerable eighteen year old woman; someone who may not have had much experience dealing with late night predators whilst under the influence. Regardless of your opinion of the incident itself, to throw such abuse online at a young woman who has clearly been shaken after a traumatic night is utterly deplorable.

Predictably (but no less disappointingly) there were the ignorant usual calls for women to “dress more sensibly” and “get less drunk” amongst the comments. If you are one of those people who believe that a woman is responsible for her fate if she dresses provocatively or has drunk too much then you are a worthless human being.  I find it incredible that such morons were able to worm their way into Cambridge at all.

I have to assume that these obnoxious individuals have never met someone who has been sexually assaulted. Sadly, I have and I can testify to what a damaging impact such experiences can have on someone’s life. Surely anyone with any understanding of the damage that is caused would know better than to mock someone who has been brave enough to come forward and give an honest account of their experience.

Incredibly, instead of offering support to this woman, some contributors wanted to debate whether or not the statistic of 97% of rape cases going unreported is true; others wanted to discuss whether a woman getting drunk and then attacked is similar to leaving an HD TV in one’s front garden.

It is thoroughly depressing to read comments from presumably bright young men (and perhaps some women) who have resorted to ad hominem attacks instead of showing compassion and concern. Clearly, many of those who read The Tab have had scant life experience – so I would suggest that such people leaving the more vitriolic comments put down their vocab books and try showing empathy and consideration for a fellow human being for a change.

Let’s now deal with the circumstances of the assault. A woman walks into a take-away shop, clearly drunk, and makes a suggestive comment to a man behind the counter. The man in question – sober and much older – feels it is appropriate to walk from behind the counter and start kissing her.

Regardless of gender, if you are dealing with someone who is clearly drunk and you’re sober, then the right and proper thing to do is to make sure that person gets home safely. If on the other hand, you are the sort of person who thinks it’s fair and reasonable to take advantage of the situation where someone is drunk and vulnerable, instead of backing off and ensuring that the person is OK, then you should not be allowed out at night.

Let’s also be clear: the attacker in this case is a man who works in the Cambridge service sector. Due to the nature of his job, and the students he serves, he has a responsibility to conduct himself in an appropriate manner. This was not a case of a drunken student misreading the signs in a Night Club. This was a sober man abusing his position.

Some people complain about feminist tactics at the University. I confess that I too would prefer that the Women’s Campaign would engage more with the male community and work with outlets such as The Tab to help educate and raise awareness. However, the comments left underneath Eleanor’s article are precisely why feminists in Cambridge no doubt feel justified in being angry and militant.

What is it about men that make them so anxious to defend the indefensible in cases such as this? The author of the article is not accusing men in general of being rapists. She was understandably stating that she doesn’t feel safe in Cambridge. Sadly, she’s not the only woman who feels unsafe here.

Certainly some men have similar problems of course. I have previously argued that it is up to the male community to offer each other more support. The solution, however, is not to shout down women and then refuse to acknowledge their own, very real problems.

One commentator wrote beneath Eleanor’s article that “men are more likely to get assaulted, robbed or murdered”. Quite right – assaulted, robbed or murdered by other men. We men create problems not just for women, but for ourselves as well. It’s no wonder my great grandmother loved to see them assault each other on TV.

Life is tough for lots of us, men and women. But unfortunately it’s only women that seem prepared to do something about it and we men who dismiss it or just ignore it.

That has to change.