Edinburgh University students to protest over ‘rape culture’ on campus
Students will gather in Bristo Square at noon on Thursday 9 February
Students at the University of Edinburgh will protest on Thursday against what is described as a “rape culture” on campus.
Fourth-year student Aarti Mukhedkar is organising the demonstration to seek a change to the university’s system for dealing with sexual assault cases, after she says she was mistreated by university staff after reporting being raped on campus two years ago.
This week’s demonstration will mark one year since a similar protest took place in Edinburgh, after Mukhedkar’s online petition demanding change to the system that deals with sexual assault received over 60,000 signatures.
In a recent post on Instagram, she wrote: “This is my last attempt to ask you for answers or ask for you to look at and believe survivors. It is the last time I am going to ask you what are you going to do about this?”.
“How are you going to make sure serial rapists don’t roam our campuses? How are you going to protect someone who has been raped? How are you going to fix the rape culture that you are promoting by not putting your foot down?”, she goes on.
A spokesperson for the University of Edinburgh told the Edinburgh Tab: “We support the right of people to protest lawfully and peacefully. The strength of feeling around these issues is something the University fully understands. We do not tolerate sexual violence within our community and we investigate all reports made to us thoroughly”.
“The University systematically reviews all of our policies and processes and we will continue to listen to views on what changes can be made to refine these, and help make sure that all students feel safe and protected”, they went on.
During her second year of studies, Aarti Mukhedkar says she was told that her claim she was violently sexually assaulted in the Salisbury Court accommodation block by a fellow student was upheld by the university. She was then invited to a disciplinary panel, having been informed by staff that the purpose of this occasion was to decide on the punishment for the accused perpetrator.
However, Mukhedkar says she was asked “humiliating, intrusive and inappropriate questions” about her attack at this stage. She alleges a staff member admitted this was “symptomatic of untrained staff who were positioned to blame me”, and says they later said these staff were not adequately trained for their roles.
“I would love to show you the recording of this [disciplinary session], but it was deleted despite me being told it would be kept for records”, Aarti told The Edinburgh Tab.
After initially being told her case was being upheld, it was in fact “thrown out” by the university, as the uni claimed “the allegations against the respondent could not be proven on the balance of probabilities”.
The experience led Aarti to begin her campaign for reform of the system last year. On 9 February 2022, hundreds of Edinburgh students gathered in the university’s Bristo Square to hear survivors of sexual assault tell their stories and call on the university to take action against alleged perpetrators.
The campaigning highlighted that Mukhedkar’s case was not isolated, and her experience of both assault and alleged mistreatment by the university’s redressal procedures had been shared by many others.
This week’s protest is scheduled to mark one year since this occasion, in what Mukhedkar calls a “last attempt” to know more about her experience of the system which was traumatising, and for the university to believe survivors of sexual assault.
She asks senior university leadership, among other questions, why she was not told she was allowed legal representation in the internal disciplinary case, despite her accused perpetrator having “perhaps the best representation that one can have in these circumstances”.
Edinburgh University says it “continue[s] to invest significantly in raising awareness, delivering training for students and staff and ensuring there is effective professional support available for any student who needs it”.
It comes after figures made public last year revealed at least 80 cases of sexual misconduct had been reported on the university’s campus since 2017, with others expected to have gone unreported.
Aarti Mukhedkar says whilst she has great affection for university tutors and will be proud to graduate in the coming months, her time in Edinburgh has been tarnished by the experience of the assault and its aftermath.
Part of her campaigning focuses on reform of the student code of conduct – which all Edinburgh students must sign prior to enrolling – so that survivors of sexual assault are better protected, and perpetrators are kept off campus.
Whilst no such change has occurred, it is understood the university is due to shortly publish a new set of guidance to sit alongside the code of conduct, which will outline for students what they can expect from an investigation into sexual violence on campus.
The protest will take place in Bristo Square at midday on Thursday 9 February.
A spokesperson for the University of Edinburgh said: “We support the right of people to protest lawfully and peacefully. The strength of feeling around these issues is something the University fully understands. We do not tolerate sexual violence within our community and we investigate all reports made to us thoroughly.
“We continue to invest significantly in raising awareness, delivering training for students and staff and ensuring there is effective professional support available for any student who needs it. Our dedicated Equally Safe Team provides specialist advice, support and guidance to those affected by forms of abuse. We also have a system in place that enables students to either tell the University about any abuse they have suffered anonymously or report it with contact details and seek wider support.
“The University systematically reviews all of our policies and processes and we will continue to listen to views on what changes can be made to refine these, and help make sure that all students feel safe and protected.”
Featured image: via Aarti Mukhedkar