Meet Loud and Clear: The project challenging the culture around sexual assault
From reforming reporting procedures to bystander intervention workshops, this Clare College project is working to effect change
CN: discussion of sexual assault and harassment
Nationally, nearly two thirds of university students and recent graduates have experienced sexual violence. Anecdotally, it’s possible to get some sense of just how widespread and pervasive the problem is through conversations with friends. Yet, instances of sexual assault and harassment so often go unreported, normalised through silence and a culture which pushes the victim to feel responsible for the trauma that they experienced – and that’s where Loud and Clear come in.
Loud and Clear is a project set up and run by students at Clare College working to reform reporting procedure, to support those who have experienced sexual harassment, and to make deeper cultural changes to how we deal with this issue. Through working with College and OSCCA (Office for Student Conduct, Complaints and Appeals), they aim to make it easier for victims to come forward and ultimately reduce instances of sexual harassment. The group are fighting a culture of victim-blaming, which Antonia describes best, as “a culture that teaches you to turn shame in on yourself and scrutinise your own behaviour rather than seeing the problem as something that is really systemic.”
The Tab spoke to Antonia Harrison and Marina McCready, who have both just completed their first year at Clare studying Classics and MML respectively. They’re part of the team of 12 students that make up Loud and Clear, and it’s this systemic problem of sexual harassment at both college and university level that the group are working to change.
‘It hits home a lot more when you get to university’
News scandals, anecdotal evidence, and personal experiences all pointed towards a culture that did not seem to adequately support those who had experienced sexual harassment. The decision to launch the project was triggered by a conversation between Marina and Antonia in Lent term. “It was me and Antonia in Antonia’s room having a chat,” Marina explains, “and we were just like, ‘Huh, it seems like there are problems and it doesn’t seem like there are the right things in place in college to help people who have come across these problems, and we should probably do something about that.’”
“It hits home a lot more when you get to university, which is not something I was necessarily expecting,” Antonia continues, “obviously this was something I was aware of before, I think everyone is, but it’s a problem that’s so endemic in university campuses – I think it’s 62 per cent of students and graduates across UK universities have experienced sexual violence.”
‘The proportion of people who report was really low’
The statistics are shocking, and one of the key disparities that Loud and Clear hope to redress is between the number of people who experience sexual violence, and the number who go on to report it. The report cited by Antonia found that out of the 62% who experienced sexual violence, only six per cent felt able to report what they had experienced.
Aware of national statistics, Loud and Clear wanted to assess the situation in Clare specifically. Marina explains: “One of the first things we did as a group was send out a survey just to Clare College students to work out the scale of the problem. We were pretty sure it was quite bad, but we only really had anecdotal evidence and we wanted to get a wider view.” The anonymised survey was used to get an idea of the type of assault that was happening, whether it was reported and if the victim was satisfied by the reporting procedures.
“78.1 per cent of people did not report at all, 18.8 per cent reported informally – normally to the college nurse, but could even be to a friend. Three per cent of people reported to the police. That means no one who took our survey reported to college or university formally. There’s quite a big gap there.”
‘Something that has arisen a lot is the issue of institutional trust’
There are many reasons for not reporting an experience of sexual assault, from social pressures within a friendship group to not believing that the experience ‘was serious enough to warrant a complaint’. The survey found that a significant proportion of people lacked institutional trust – confidence that a complaint will be satisfactorily handled by existing institutional processes. Antonia mentions the damaging effects of the Trinity Hall case on this: “It’s been proved to students that institutional processes can be really fallible and corrupt, that the voices of victims can be silenced and disregarded. People should feel empowered to report their experiences but it’s the colleges’ responsibility to make students feel this way.”
“These problems are really intersectional”
Lack of institutional trust is an issue that is also especially heavily shaped by intersectionality – Marina points out that none of the BME students surveyed by Loud and Clear reported or disclosed in any way. Antonia explains this issue further: “BME, disabled, LGBTQ+ students, and students from low SES [socioeconomic status] backgrounds are disproportionately likely to suffer sexual assault, but they are far less likely to be represented in college at an institutional level, in disciplinary processes and in pastoral support.
“As a student in Cambridge who is affected by these intersectionalities, your experiences are not likely to be understood and contextualised by the people who are meant to be assisting you and supporting you with them.”
I ask further about how the project incorporates intersectionality into their work. For Antonia, ensuring that the members of the project itself represent different groups is important: “That’s something we have definitely been working on a lot. Getting as much representation of different groups as possible, and making sure that we are always always attentive to those experiences and narratives, and cognisant of them in everything that we do.”
“It’s something we’re very conscious of, especially as this issue is so affected by intersectionality,” Marina adds, “I think we are going to try and keep pushing college and university on putting support in place for minority groups. I know Antonia’s been looking at the possibility of advisors in colleges for certain groups of people.”
In a similar vein, the group emphasise that although sexual violence is a heavily gendered issue, with women most often affected, the experiences of men can be stigmatised within the discussion and not taken as seriously. Marina emphasises that men can also be victims of sexual assault, and “are perhaps worse affected in terms of the culture around it, and being deterred from reporting.”
In the survey, none of the men who experienced sexual assault made a report, and Loud and Clear pushed to have a male representative on their team. “Men have such unique experiences when it comes to sexual assault, and especially when it comes to reforming these reporting procedures,” Antonia says. “It’s been really good to have a male voice in that, because they face completely different barriers when coming to report to those that people of other genders face, and we want to facilitate everyone doing that.”
“It’s about the procedures being loud and clear in that they should be transparent and accessible”
Using the results of the survey and discussions with OSCCA, Loud and Clear are redrafting the reporting procedure to create a process which takes sufficient action and ensures that the victim feels supported throughout the process. Marina explains: “Our aim is to make it so that you just have to report it once, and if you give consent it can be passed from college to university.”
The group has been working closely with Clare College, the university, and OSCCA, with promising results: all were keen to get the information gathered by Loud and Clear and implement changes. One of the main issues Marina identifies is the lack of access to university resources. “When we met with the people who OSCCA have employed, they are some really experienced and knowledgeable people,” she says. “The university has got some really great things in place that need to be more accessible and better advertised.”
“Changing cultures in college is a really big priority for us”
Besides procedural changes, Loud and Clear have been active on social media to establish themselves as a strong and informative presence within their college through sharing educational posts on Facebook. Marina points out that she has “had people say ‘Oh, this was a really helpful post. It made me re-evaluate some of my opinions,’ or ‘Oh, I hadn’t realised that particular nuance of the discussion and now I know better,’ and seeing people get educated has been really nice.”
At the same time, it is difficult to separate the culture from procedure. A technical change in the reporting process must be accompanied by a change in how people at every level of involvement respond to instances of sexual harassment, from bystanders to college staff who hear informal complaints. Marina emphasises that you can’t change the procedures without also working to change the culture: “I think it’s really important that they happen together. It’s good to encourage people to report, but we need to make sure the systems are in place to support them while they do it.”
“Having conversations about it is really important”
Loud and Clear have many plans for the future: working with the CUSU Women’s Campaign over the summer to design and distribute an improved consent workshop, finalising their reformed reporting procedure and creating an accessible guide to it, as well as continuing their educational work on social media. They’re also looking to expand to other colleges: “We really want to ask people from other colleges to take the initiative to form sister groups, and work together on making sure that this culture that we want to create can extend outside of Clare and cover the whole university.”
For Marina, normalising this topic in all aspects of university life is vital in breaking the stigma and silence which surrounds it. “I think having conversations about it is really important. Conversations about consent, and normalising clear consent, such that any suggestion of grey area is inexcusable because we normalise verbally asking.”
Antonia emphasises the importance of learning and educating yourself in fighting complicity within this conversation: “Educating yourself allows you to help your friends as well as help yourself, and combat the culture of silence that still rules in college spaces.”
The problem of sexual harassment is endemic across university campuses in the UK, and it’s a multifaceted and complex problem which requires equally complex work to address. However, Loud and Clear’s proposals to educate people about misconceptions, and reform procedures are a crucial aspect in doing so. Fundamentally, their work is transforming the culture in Cambridge into one where perpetrators of sexual assault face consequences and victims are supported and believed, which will create a more responsible, safer, and ultimately more equal university environment.
If you are affected by any of the issues in this article, university resources are provided below:
All photos used with permission of Loud and Clear.
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