Meet Eva Carroll, the Cambridge student working with Our Streets Now to end Public Sexual Harassment
‘I’m just stopped, stopped in my tracks by a horrible comment, it weighs on my mind and I can’t concentrate properly’
CN: // Discussions of sexual misconduct and assault, details of assault, rape culture, trauma, femicide and death
Over 1/3 of girls experience verbal harassment at least once per month and countless others face Public Sexual Harassment on a daily basis. In the wake of the tragic deaths of Blessing Olusegun and Sarah Everard, mainstream media has finally given these injustices some attention. However, there is still a long way to go, and we need to keep on fighting argues Eva Carroll, an English student at King’s College and a Higher Education Ambassador to Our Streets Now, a national campaign demanding an end to Public Sexual Harassment (PSH).
Public Sexual Harassment, defined by Our Streets Now, is the “unwelcomed and unwanted attention, sexual advances and intimidating behaviour that occurs in public spaces, both in-person and online.” Though it is “usually directed towards women and often oppressed groups within society, it can be experienced by all.” Our Streets Now, founded by two sisters, demands an end to PSH through awareness and education, as well as legislative and political action. In particular, the national movement campaigns to make PSH a criminal offence.
We discuss Eva’s personal experiences with Public Sexual Harassment, the important work of Our Streets Now and the role of Cambridge University.
Eva’s motivation to campaign to end Public Sexual Harassment began when she was only 16; she recalls a time when she was “walking along a road in broad daylight with my boyfriend” and a boy on a bike cycled past and slapped her on the backside. Eva highlights the shocking impact of the harassment: “[I]t had never escalated to physical, and that really shook me.” Since then, Eva has been determined to prevent and tackle PSH through working with Plan UK, and, most recently, as a Higher Education Ambassadors for Our Streets Now.
Eva, like victims across the UK, has experienced the “mental anguish” of PSH. She describes how it impinges upon victims’ freedom of movement, by creating a mental barrier between them and the public sphere. Stepping out of the “big wooden old prestigious door” of King’s College, Eva discusses how every day, she is faced with the prospect of “objectification” and “misogyny” as she walks down King’s Parade. She describes that: “I’m walking along, thinking about my essay for the day, then I’m stopped, stopped in my tracks by a horrible comment and I can’t concentrate properly.”
The mental impact of PSH has been highlighted by a Young Women’s Trust study, which has found that young women who endure sexism in the UK – defined as “being attacked or threatened because of your sex” – are five times more likely to suffer from clinical depression. The severe emotional impact this is having on victims’ lives could not be clearer.
PSH doesn’t stop for a pandemic
Plan UK has found that 28% of women and girls feel less safe going out in public since lockdown began in the UK. Eva explains that going outside is “one of our only freedoms at the moment.” Therefore, the possibility of harassment in this space takes “that freedom away from you.” Eva describes how the public sphere can feel “dangerous” and “unsafe,” and she is left with “a mental map of where PSH has happened to me.”
Eva also notes that reporting PSH has become harder during the pandemic, especially when it was experienced whilst breaking lockdown rules. It’s clear that the work of Our Streets Now, in the midst of the pandemic and all that entails, is becoming more important than ever.
The Mechanisms of Public Street Harassment
For Our Streets Now, PSH is carried out because of gender discrimination and/or power dynamics, and “perpetuates an environment and culture that disregards historically vulnerable and oppressed groups of people.” Eva explains that the act of PSH occurs because the perpetrator “feels they can exert power over you and your body.”
She describes how intersectionality is at the “core” of Our Streets Now’s Campaign. The movement supports victims and collects testimonies relating to any experience of PSH and Eva emphasizes the importance of recognising “those differences in harassment experiences” to understand the mechanisms of this oppression.
For Eva, Our Street’s Now campaign to make PSH a criminal offence is more than just a change in the law. It says to perpetrators “no, this is not okay.” To victims, it declares that “you have a right to walk in the streets without being harassed and, if you are, your experience is valid and you can report it.”
The University of Cambridge and PSH
Eva feels that “Cambridge, as an institution whether intentionally or inadvertently has pushed PSH underground.” She describes how it “needs to be proactive rather than reactive.” Furthermore, as a female student, she believes that the “atmosphere and the institution” can make you “uncomfortable to report these incidents.” This comes after it was found that between 2016 and 2019 Cambridge received 165 reported allegations of rape and sexual assault, making it the sixth-worst university for rates of assault in the UK. There is clearly some progress to be made.
Hence, the Cambridge Ambassadors for Our Streets Now have the following aims:
- Compulsory consent workshops and ongoing training for both students and staff throughout the University
- Well-funded institution-wide awareness campaigns to create a mainstream dialogue around PSH
- Collaboration with local authorities, businesses, nightlife providers to ensure open communication
- The appointment of a full-time sexual assault and harassment advisor (when approached for comment a University spokesperson said: “In addition to University counselling and college support, the University hired a dedicated Sexual Assault and Harassment Advisor to give students one-to-one specialist support.”)
A newly created campaign, Our Streets Now Cambridge is also looking to work with JCR and MCRs to improve consent workshops, combat rape culture in drinking societies, and encourage the university to provide self-defence classes. They are also gathering testimonies of students who have experiences PSH.
Eva discusses how Cambridge Students can support the movement by going out and learning: “there are books, there are articles, all the information you need is out there” (many of which resources are found on the Our Streets Now website). Our Streets Now Cambridge also has vacancies on their newly created committee, which are advertised on their Facebook and Instagram.
As the interview ends, Eva talks of the constant “fatigue” she feels explaining these issues again and again. But at the same time, her integrity and passion for change shine through. Public Sexual Harassment cannot, and should not, be explained away as a normal experience. Its perpetrators need to be held accountable.
The University Press Office was contacted for comment. A University spokesperson said: “Harassment and sexual misconduct are not tolerated by Cambridge University. There is support available and there are systems in place for any student who has been affected by harassment or sexual misconduct to report their experience to the University. In addition to University counselling and college support, the University hired a dedicated Sexual Assault and Harassment Advisor to give students one-to-one specialist support. Information on reporting options and how to access support available inside and outside of the University can be found on the University of Cambridge’s ‘Breaking the Silence’ and Student Complaints webpages.”
Resources available relating to the issues addressed in this article:
- WomCam Support Services Resources Bank
- Stonewall Services and Community Locator
- Loud and Clear 2020 Guide
- Cambridge Sexual Assault and Harassment Advisor
- NHS Help, Rape and Sexual Assault
- Sexual Misconduct informal and formal reporting forms for OSCCA (the University of Cambridge Office for Student Conduct, Complaints and Appeals)
For more resources and details please see: A few ways to find support if you or your friend has experienced sexual misconduct in Cambridge
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Feature image credits: Eva Carroll and Our Streets Now Cambridge