If you want to start tackling rape culture at Sussex Uni, start with sports societies

Why we need to stop saying ‘boys will be boys’ and start holding people accountable for their actions

TW: Explicit discussions of rape culture and sexual assault.

Sports societies are a breeding ground for rape culture at Sussex Uni and it’s time we addressed it.

We all know how fucked up sports societies can be. They’re full to the brim with toxic masculinity and they keep rape culture alive and well. It’s no secret that Sussex uni doesn’t have the best reputation for responding to student reports of sexual harassment.

Just last term The Sussex Tab revealed the SU’s reporting tool for sexual assault was broken for four months.  This means that real complaints were not dealt with. Not to mention the university took over a year to deal with one student’s rape complaint. Not good enough. Students deserve to feel like their safety matters.

After joining a sport society in my first year, I quickly discovered that sport clubs are a breeding ground for laddish banter and misogynistic behaviour. It seemed as though it was one rule for the student body and another rule for those students in sport societies. Their sexist comments and attitudes feed into more harmful actions and in extreme cases: sexual assault.

As a member of sport societies at Sussex Uni, I wanted to share a few examples of the behaviour I witnessed.

Male players made a ‘shaggability list’

During my first year, senior boys instructed male first year students to rate the female players based on their “shaggability”.

Another male student is known for sexually coercing younger girls in the club most Wednesday social nights. There have been five seperate complaints submitted about this male sports player and he remained an active member of the team up until he graduated.

The issue here isn’t just individuals: it is a culture in which men can literally sexually assault women and still be seen as a good guy.  A culture where their female friends acknowledge that sexual assault has taken place but remain friendly with the perpetrators because they are “charming”.  It’s time for the University establishment to take sexual assault more seriously instead of sweeping it under the carpet and leaving it to student committees to sort out.

If you don’t see it as a problem then you’re part of the problem

I lie awake at night thinking about how these people have got away with their actions with minimal to no consequences. How the lack of consequences may have encouraged them to continue making women uncomfortable and violating their space. How they were able to maintain their popularity and social status despite repeatedly demonstrating harmful behaviours and how they can move on with their lives happily.

The same cannot be said of their victims. They do not get justice, they don’t get even to be in a safe space away from the perpetrators. They are still probably dealing with the consequences of the boys’ actions whether they show it or not.

If you witness a male friend grab a woman without her consent and you do nothing because he’s ‘your boy’, you are basically telling him that these actions are normal and acceptable. They are not. If the boy feels like this is normal, what is to stop him continuing to assault women? What is to stop this behaviour escalating to rape? It may sound extreme but it comes down to male entitlement to women’s bodies.

It’s time to call our your boys

What we need to do is to create an environment where we feel like we can call out bullshit when we see it- without the fear of being socially excluded. This is not about cancel culture, because we know people make mistakes.  This is about calling out red flags of sexist behaviour in our peers which can lead to serious damage being done in the future.  It is no surprise that the same society which considers rating women on “shaggability” acceptable, also takes no action when their members commit assault.

The men in sports societies need to start seeing their female counterparts as equals and not just as a potential shag on a Wednesday night. So the next time your guy friend speaks about women like objects, or gets a little too handsy with a woman in the club, or is visibly making someone uncomfortable – do something about it. Call him out. Show him this  behaviour cannot slide anymore. Women need to stop letting their male friends get away with worrying behaviour. The university needs to take real action when assault takes place and do better.

University statement

A spokesperson for the University of Sussex spoke to The Sussex Tab about rape culture at the university. They said: “All students should be able to experience and enjoy University life without encountering sexual harassment and violence – of any kind. However, we know this exists in society and it has impacted students before and during their time at University. We all need to continue to work together ensure that Sussex is a safe and progressive community. We know that so many of our students really care about addressing the issues and understanding the behaviours that uphold dignity and respect. Where this isn’t happening we need to take action.

“We are keen to work with the Students’ Union to run consent and healthy relationships workshops for all student societies at the start of the next academic year. We are also asking all students to complete our online consent course at the point of registration. However, if this is triggering for a student, they should opt out.

“If any student has experienced sexual harassment or violence, please get in touch with our student support teams so we can help. We will support any student who has experienced sexual assault or unwanted sexual attention. You can find information about this support on our website, including how to access help in an emergency, sources of on-campus and off-campus support, your options for deciding what to do following an assault, and links to ongoing support services.

“Our teams have an open door to providing support. You can seek confidential advice and guidance from our professional advisors at the Student Life Centre on any issue. The Student Life Centre and other support services are currently operating remotely due to the Covid-19 pandemic and are here to help however they can. We will resume in-person support when government guidance allows.”

The SU Welfare Officer and Sports and Activities officer have both been contacted for comment.

Feature image courtesy of Alex Motoc on Unsplash.

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I was raped by a Sussex student and it took the uni over a year to deal with my complaint