Why we need to RECLAIM THE NIGHT

‘Human decency is not foreplay!’

Cambridge sexual assault solidarity women

On Sunday, Cantabs braved the weather to take to the street to Reclaim the Night. The message was loud and clear. We will not tolerate street harassment and sexual assault.

The principle behind this international movement is that simple: the streets should be safe by removing all forms of gendered violence. Regardless of the time of day or what you are wearing, you should be able to feel safe at university. Period. Hard to object to, right?

Sadly, the message doesn’t seem to be getting across. Perhaps the chants weren’t catchy enough. Maybe, our banners weren’t colourful enough. Or maybe, this is a sign of something much more concerning and a reminder that these protests could be life changing if people paid as much attention as they do to the latest Made in Chelsea episode.

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Some argued that the march was unnecessary in the 21st Century, at a university filled with “the brightest minds in the country”; to them I say this. The march was a stark reminder of the alarming assault statistics – stats that can’t be over-emphasized. Figures show that 1 in 13 students will be the victim of sexual assault during their time at university, many of whom will be attacked by friends and acquaintances in college. Shockingly, only 12% of these will be reported, with many students still unaware of their options.

These are not just statistics. Within minutes of our arrival, a young woman approached us, visibly overwhelmed. She wanted to personally tell us how much it meant that we devoted our time and energy as she herself was a survivor. These are people that have to come to terms with what happened to them and the often devastating psychological impacts: impacts that are too often stigmatised and silenced. We owe it to them to take their experiences seriously and make sure that our sisters, friends and mothers are never put in the same position.

 

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Victim blaming persists and sadly shows no signs of slowing. Women are routinely told to adapt their behaviours in order not to be raped – a position that is explicitly regurgitated by the police and even implicitly acknowledged within the medical profession and this university. This has as much logic as the government advising you to not travel to Africa because you don’t want to be eaten by a tiger. Yes. It’s freaking ridiculous.

Every time we excuse the flippant comments, we just pass the problem onto someone else. Someone who decided to walk home alone, or wear a mini-skirt, or act like a ‘slut’. That word makes me sick.  And isn’t that just teaching us that as long as it doesn’t happen to you, it’s not a problem? How can we live in a world that turns a blind eye to the most vulnerable and even continue to bash them for their own choices, just because we still belong to a society patriarchal at its core?

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Waving eye-catching banners about consent, cat calling and ‘cocks’ was a start…

More specifically, there is a woeful lack of support for victims to come forward in safe spaces. The University Counselling Service is underfunded despite Cambridge being one of Europe’s richest universities whilst discrepancies in college support networks are an abysmal failing of central welfare duties. To add to this, the government is cutting funding for Rape Crisis Services, offering very few places to turn to in need. Thus, the psychological effects, let alone the stigma are not being tackled at a societal level. Cambridge’s role in this is tragic.

Isn’t this just an implicit way of disregarding victims once more? Around a third of rape victims have reported suicidal thoughts, with the numbers experiencing episodes of depression of PTSD even higher than this. But there are very few viable places for these people to turn to, often being pressured into intermitting or paying for private psychiatric treatment. Not everyone can afford treatment costing £80 per hour over a period of years. Why are we forcing victims of sexual assault into private counselling, when the NHS will pay if you break your leg in Sunday Life?

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‘Equality makes me wet’

When I hear people being derogatory about the march, it makes me wonder why these concepts are so difficult to grasp. I can sympathise with objections to the male exclusion of the march and also what the word ‘feminism’ has (wrongly!!) been taken to mean in a popular sense.

But this is much more than a superficial expression of protest. It is an urgent call to Cambridge to tackle some fundamental problems with provisions for victims, entirely within the remit of some of the ‘world’s best thinkers’. It’s what the university needs to do.