‘It left me feeling violated’: Edi students share their experiences of rape culture
Rape culture is a set of behaviours that normalise sexual violence
CW: sexual harassment, assault and rape
A recent survey by The Tab found that 59 per cent of female students have been sexually assaulted. Combine this with the scores of testimonies on Instagram accounts like Everyone’s Invited and EdiAnon, you begin to get a sense of the extent to which rape culture affects campus life.
But for every story on an Instagram account or statistic from a survey, there are actual people behind them whose lives have been turned upside down by sexual violence and harassment.
The Edinburgh Tab spoke to several students who have experienced rape culture – not just assault or harassment, but the behaviours that normalise and encourage them like victim blaming, not intervening as a bystander, and misogynist comments.
If any of the accounts below cause you distress, then please contact one of the organisations that will be listed at the bottom of the article.
All identifying details have either been changed or removed for anonymity.
“My first year at Uni, I was a promoter for two of the main nightclubs and the whole clubbing scene in Edinburgh is pretty much built on misogyny.
“Club photographers, managers, staff etc. are very often involved in sexual harassment which creates an unsafe environment for young and vulnerable students. My manager invited me to his flat where he held me down on his bed and refused to let me go until I physically released myself.
“Wealthy and popular guys who know a lot of people act very entitled and participate in sexual harassment, and it’s become very normalised. I had a strong support network of friends who all took my side and because of the pandemic, clubbing died down and I haven’t seen most of these people since.
“I think it would be a good idea for freshers to know that them signing to promote a club doesn’t require any sort of action that they’re not comfortable with and that ‘sleeping your way to the top’ shouldn’t feel like the only way. If it does, you’re better off not promoting for that club.
“And the security guards are always on your side if you report a guy acting strange! The bouncers have always been so lovely to me at all clubs when I’ve needed them.”
“Experienced being groped in a club, been wolf whistled, had men shout things at me, men giving me creepy stares, had men beep at me.”
“It’s a sunny Edinburgh day, I do my hair and makeup, put on a new outfit, and look in the mirror. I feel good. I put my music on and step out into the sunshine, tapping my fingers along to the beat. I walk for 30 seconds and come to a crossing, I press the button and soak up the feeling of the sun.
“Completely absorbed in my music I don’t notice that someone is tapping my shoulder, interrupting my little bubble. I take out my earbud and immediately regret it. I see five men, wearing football supporters’ outfits, all mid 30’s. I’ve already taken my earbud out and am marooned at the crossing.
“Cue the usual conversation had by many of us, “just wanted to say you look really sexy”… ‘got a boyfriend?’… ‘you know you’d look better without those clothes on’…. ‘why do you look upset? you should take it as a complement you sensitive bitch’.
“I smile and nod, the crossing flashing green, and silently start crying. I try so hard not to let it get me down, but it does, and instantly I start analysing the situation, I should have walked away, shouldn’t have taken my earbud out, should have told them to fuck off.
“But if I did, maybe I would have gotten hurt, so it’s easier to just smile and nod.”
“Two years ago, I was back in Edinburgh after my second year finished and I visited a friend to grab drinks together. I met a couple of guys outside one of the bars near George Street and shared cigarettes with them.
“After finishing our drinks, we were all heading towards one of the clubs with the guys who were all work colleagues and one of them (the attacker) was starting to get more friendly with me. Thinking about it now, I found it quite strange but just ignored the overconfidence at that point.
“After a lot of dancing, one of the more relaxed guys in the group invited us for an after-party at his place and we had more drinks there. My friend went home at that point and shared her flat’s entrance code with me so I could come back afterwards.
“At around 5am the after-party was ending, and the attacker invited everyone to his place to continue the party. I accepted because I basically did not want the night to end. So, only me and one other guy in the group joined the attacker’s invitation to the after-party and I should’ve backed out then. Somehow it just seemed like I could trust them because there weren’t any red flags that I was aware of at the time.
“When we arrived at his apartment, we had more drinks during sunrise and danced in the garden. Then, the attacker told me that I was able to stay in the spare bedroom if I was tired and this seemed like a very kind offer at the time. However, he also said that his friend couldn’t know about me staying there so he made me hide in the bathroom, locking the door and he convinced his friend that I already went home.
“I was exhausted at that moment and knew I couldn’t really do anything about what was going on and just wanted to have some sleep after the whole night. My memory of this is quite blurry as well because I was basically falling asleep in the bathtub whilst waiting for the attacker to let me sleep in the spare bedroom.
“I was wearing a summery bodysuit that night and when the attacker finally let me go to bed, the bodysuit came off, leaving me in just my underwear. Then, somehow the attacker joined me in bed while I was already dosing off, and started taking his clothes off. I was totally frozen and couldn’t respond to what happened next, like a safety mechanism to avoid anything worse from happening to me.
“After he took advantage of me, he threatened me not to tell anyone about what happened and snatched my phone away to unfollow all his work colleagues that I met the night before. I was a little scared by his alarming response after what happened and promised him not to tell anyone about it.
“Two months later I was heading into the third year abroad and tried to forget about what happened. However, when I returned to Edinburgh for my final year during the pandemic, the flashbacks started to fill my mind constantly and I told my closest friend about the story. Eventually, I told my family and then the police, who could not prove the rape case and only recorded it as sexual abuse.
“I was lucky with the support network around me when facing the trauma included in recovering from this experience and proudly completed my degree now with enough special circumstances from the university. With the current pandemic circumstances, it felt more challenging to sit on my thoughts during lockdown and would highly encourage anyone experiencing anxiety to write down their thoughts.
“Journaling, fitness, art, and music helped me through some of the hardest points in the healing and would recommend sharing stories with close friends and family. I have learned a lot about myself through this experience and able to love myself like never before, accepting the reality and focusing on moving forward to prevail through these uncertain times.
“I had to take therapy for a few months, the university had sexual abuse officers who you could meet and talk to about any problems, I found that quite helpful but didn’t want to go to them too regularly as I just wanted some normality of student life again at that point.
“In the special circumstances I only mentioned the facts of the events (dates, actions with the police, effects, and symptoms after reopening that chapter) and gave them the student counselling and therapy reference and police report so they didn’t ask more about it.
“The support offered was quite limited due to the lockdown of course, they managed to provide extra space in the coursework except from the group work since the grading around it would be more complex. For my dissertation, I was offered over a month-long extension and the support team would reply to my emails promptly which helped.”
“I am Scottish and because of that, I like to wear my family tartan kilt out for formal dinners. In Edinburgh I have probably worn it about 10-15 times and every single time without fail multiple women have come up to me and asked, “are you a true Scotsman?”, “Are you wearing anything underneath?”. To which I have given them a look of annoyance at which point they complained about me being no fun.
“When I pointed out that what they were doing was harassment they just waved it off as being different and thereby not counting.”
“On at least three occasions, women have taken it further and just gone ahead and lifted my kilt up because they wanted to “check for themselves”, to which I was very embarrassed and there was little I could do, as a man if I lay my hands on them, I will be seen as the aggressor.
“No one of authority took me seriously over this and when I have spoken to other guys who I know who wear kilts the response from them was mostly just a grimace of resignation and it’s seen as something we have to put up with. It’s not something that anyone wearing a kilt should have to deal with.”
“At the beginning of first year I bumped into a boy in a club who offered to buy me a drink and I politely declined and told him I had a boyfriend.
“When I turned my back to him, he grabbed me from behind and hung onto me, trying to turn me around so he could kiss me. He was trying to put his hands on my jeans and up my top. I started screaming and trying to pry him off me but due to the noise I don’t think anybody realised what was happening.
“I tried to make my way back to my friends as there were boys there who I knew would help me. Luckily, I managed to shake him in the crowd, but it left me feeling very angry and violated”
“I was walking around 10pm one night in March through the Meadows and got to the middle of Jawbone Walk towards Quartermile. This middle-aged man was hanging about, and I had a gut reaction that I should be wary. He walked up to me, and I instinctively covered myself a bit more with my coat. He noticed this and started saying I don’t need to be scared and I shouldn’t cover myself for him.
“He then followed me the whole way up that walk until I got to Sainsbury’s, trying to touch my hands, and complimenting my body. When I pulled my phone out, he tried to take it off me. He kept kissing my hands and rings even though I was repeatedly telling him to leave me alone and speeding up to get away from him.
“I was worried that if I tried to push him away or shouted that he would get physically violent as he was getting more threatening. Although people were passing and could see I was uncomfortable, no one stopped to help. Eventually he left me alone when I got to Sainsbury’s.”
Suzy Lamplugh Trust – 0808 802 0300 – help for if you think you are being stalked/ have a stalker
Rape Crisis Scotland – 0808 801 0302 – open between 6pm – 12pm
Galop – 0800 999 5428 – LGBTQ+ helpline for those who have experienced harassment
Male Survivors Partnership – 0808 800 5005 – provides help and information for male victims/survivors of sexual abuse, rape and sexual exploitation
Scottish Women’s Rights Centre – 0808 801 01789
Our Streets Now – movement to end public sexual harassment by making it a criminal offence
@edi_anonymous – submissions for students in Edinburgh to raise awareness of sexual violence
@strutsafe – 0333 335 0026 – offer a service where approved volunteers can escort individuals home if they feel unsafe – available friday and saturday 7pm – 3am and sunday 7pm – 1am
University of Edinburgh states that the Student’s Association Advice Place is the best provider of frontline support if you have experienced sexual violence, harassment or assault.
University has a dedicated Rape Crisis care worker for 2 days a week – [email protected] for dedicated support