Cambridge Survivors: Uniting those who have experienced sexual misconduct

We spoke to the anonymous admins of Cambridge Survivors, an organisation running pages on Facebook and Instagram dedicated to allowing survivors to share their experiences

Content warning: Discussion of sexual misconduct

In light of recent discussions on the pervasiveness of rape culture in educational institutions, we spoke to the anonymous admins of Cambridge Survivors. The organisation runs pages on Facebook and Instagram dedicated to allowing survivors of sexual assault, violence, or harassment to share their experiences and to receive support and affirmation. 

As survivors themselves, the admins feel that allowing survivors an anonymous platform to control their own narratives empowers closeted survivors without forcing them to “come out” about their experiences. They hope raising awareness will be a vital step towards countering sexual violence. Because so many survivors are not “out”, people can drastically underestimate the scale of the problem in higher education, where it is often swept under the rug.

‘Our admin team is a tiny and tight-knit group of anonymous survivors’

The pages on Instagram (@cambridgesurvivors) and Facebook (Cambridge Survivors) publish anonymous testimonies. To submit a testimony, survivors must enter it into a Google form, set a password that allows the story to be retracted through a submission modification/removal form, and choose whether or not to disclose the perpetrator’s name. The perpetrators name is never published on social media, but the admins may use it to link you up with other survivors hurt by the same person or inform you whether the person is a repeat offender. If you do choose to include a name, you may also leave any form of contact details so that the organisation can match you with another person who discloses the same perpetrator’s name as you. 

The admins reiterate that any of the detail you do leave “will never be shared beyond our admin team, which is a tiny and tight-knit group of anonymous survivors”. They added that they are currently in the process of making an anonymous affiliation form given that some survivors might worry about being identified when they publicly engage with the page. 

‘We want to help fellow survivors’

The admins looked into testimony pages across the US and the UK. They were heavily influenced by the resources and format of St Andrew’s Survivors, and by the impact and reach of Everyone’s Invited. “Almost every university has a similarly structured testimony page at this point, so it felt really necessary that Cambridge should have one too,” they said. 

They hope that people who have not experienced sexual misconduct would be able to use the page to understand the pervasiveness and impact of rape culture and that such people will educate and hold their friends accountable on issues related to consent, survivorship, and bystander intervention. However, they said that this is only a secondary priority. Their main priority is “want[ing] to help fellow survivors”. They said that they were grateful to have the opportunity to facilitate survivors joining forces and empowering one another.

‘Sexual misconduct is a wide and diverse phenomenon’

The admins were very clear that their page would never gatekeep what behaviour constitutes sexual assault. They said: “Sexual misconduct is a wide and diverse phenomenon that can manifest in limitless ways and forms. People’s experiences of violations of consent are so incredibly diverse and no set definition can really capture the nuance within that.” They feel that it is important that victims of sexual misconduct never second-guess their experiences, downplay their discomfort, or feel that what happened to them was “not serious enough” to warrant their emotions or reactions. “Seeing misconduct as a ‘spectrum’ of non-serious to serious incidents is reductive,” they summarised. No violation of consent is too “small” for their page– a diversity of experiences helps recognise the breadth, diversity, and pervasiveness of sexual misconduct.

According to Rape Crisis UK, around 12,000 men between the ages of 16 and 59 experience rape or attempted rape per year. The admins state that they “absolutely and unconditionally support survivors of all genders”. They added: “Although we need to acknowledge that sexual violence is a distinctly patriarchal phenomenon which is disproportionately suffered by women and femme people, this should never come at the expense of recognising the still endemic rates of sexual assault experienced by men and masc people.”

Taking an intersectional approach to male and masc sexual assault statistics is important. Queer men, trans men, and transmasc people (particularly those of colour) are more vulnerable. This is linked to their increased vulnerability to poverty, marginalisation, hate crimes, fetishisation, and hypersexualisation. They are also less likely to have access to specialised support. The admins also affirmed the importance of using gender-inclusive language when discussing survivorship. SurvivorsUK, for instance, specialises in supporting men and non-binary people who have experienced sexual violence.

Image credits: Cambridge Survivors

‘Don’t wait for people around you to disclose their experiences’

On fostering safe spaces for survivors, the admins said: “The most important thing is: Don’t wait for the people around you to disclose their experiences with sexual assault, harassment, and violence before you get to work.” Survivors are everywhere and do not owe you their stories. To accommodate survivors, it is important to use content-warnings on everything you say and post about sexual misconduct, never use victim-blaming language, educate yourself on and actively practise consent, and hold others accountable when they display ignorance, use inappropriate language, or hold harmful misconceptions about sexual misconduct.

If someone shares an experience with you, the admins feel the best way to handle it is to listen and allow the person to share the story on their own terms. Above all, one must avoid pressuring them to report it – reporting can be a retraumatising experience and survivors might choose not to for a variety of other reasons. Withholding judgement and critically examining your own views is important. The admins call for allies to “understand that the stigma around survivors and victim-blaming attitudes is ever-present and often deeply entrenched in our worldview… We need to be constantly challenging our preconceptions and biases”.

‘We knew that there would be times when we would struggle’

The admins said that “we knew that there would be times when we would struggle with handling people’s very personal testimonies, having experienced similar things ourselves”. However, while they feel frustrated that the burden of activism on sexual violence falls disproportionately on survivors, they feel grateful and privileged at being trusted with very personal and sensitive stories.

They hope that knowing the page is handled by survivors will make those who submit testimonies more comfortable – they feel that their experiences as survivors make them especially capable of handling information sensitively, understanding the importance of autonomy over the narrative, and having solidarity with survivor issues. They wish to emphasise that they will support and believe survivors unconditionally.

Related articles recommended by these authors:

A few ways to find support if you or your friend has experienced sexual misconduct in Cambridge 

‘Allyship is a verb’: We spoke to trans students about how to make Cambridge more trans-inclusive 

Meet Eva Carroll, the Cambridge student working with Our Streets Now to end Public Sexual Harassment

Featured Image Credits: Bilyana Thomas, Sophie Carlin, Cambridge Survivors,  Mandy Fontana from Pixabay