Although on a year abroad in Bordeaux, I applied to attend a talk in London that I was made aware of by vlogger and soon to be author Hannah Witton. Her content includes travel, books, university life and sexual health – I would recommend it to any student, as she talks about the things people are often too scared to discuss. The event, #SheInspiresMe Sessions (also a Facebook livestream), was hosted by the Executive Director of Women for Women International Brita Fernandez Schmidt. The three panellists were; Dr Nina Burrowes (psychologist), Emma Riggs (Restorative Justice case study ambassador) and Hannah Witton (YouTuber). Another vlogger, Lucy Moon, was also in the audience.
In the first livestreamed session discussion ranged from why this topic is important to what can be done to support victims. It is clear that sexual violence often becomes an afterthought in terms of war and conflict as the first major issues that come to mind are death, disease and disaster. If you asked people to make a list of the devastating consequences of conflict, you would notice that sexual violence is rarely a top priority.
Networks and support were key discussion areas. One panellist was a survivor of rape from an ex-partner: she felt that while she received support from police, her family and friends were not given any support. While they were not ‘victims’, they were her primary support network – ignoring them made her life more difficult. She also mentioned that she felt lucky to have received such good treatment from police, with officers even popping in to check up on her in the months and years following. However, she soon realised she should not have been ‘lucky’, it should be the norm.
Hannah spoke about the range of sexual violence and harassment, especially from a university perspective. Although the phrase ‘no means no’ is good way to remind and give confidence to young people to only be involved sexually with a partner with consent, the phrase is problematic as many other things can also mean ‘no’. For example; ‘I don’t feel like it, not tonight, I have a headache’. Hannah suggested a better explanation should be ‘yes means yes’ – fully giving consent. This all links in to Exeter’s continuing #NeverOK campaign that the Students’ Guild has worked hard to support, in order for all students to feel safe on campus and in the city.
We cannot save the world with a #hashtag, but we can try.
Throughout the conversation, the clear message was the importance of communication. Emma Riggs explained that after her story went public on social media, five friends messaged her privately about their personal experiences – she had had no idea. With mental health also being a key concern, it is essential that we feel more comfortable speaking about these topics. After my recent trip to Singapore, I noticed there are many simple posters, not advertisements, with phrases such as ‘how are you?’, ‘how are you feeling today?’, ‘what is your mood?’. I mentioned it to some locals there, and they explained why discussion on mental health is being encouraged: an 11-year-old school boy who did not do well in an exam and chose to commit suicide rather than tell his parents. This news story has hit the country hard and many businesses are doing whatever they can to prevent this from happening in the future.
‘Taboo’ topics are being discussed and tackled excellently on new media such as YouTube by the likes of Hannah Witton and also Louise Pentland, making young people feel at ease to talk about these subjects amongst friends. Hannah mentioned that she feels her younger viewers are potentially more ‘clued-in’ than older viewers as they have grown up with new media and the knowledge that it is important to have an open mind, be open to cultural intelligence and not shy away from pressing issues. I often see online nowadays students commenting that Twitter has taught them more about sex, religion, and politics, than their school ever did.
One other interesting conversation was the importance of not making men feel left out of the discussion, or left behind. The #endSVC campaign is inclusive of all genders and it was great to see three or four men in the audience.
I would encourage everyone to check out Women for Women International or find out about issues you are concerned about and get involved with the people that are making changes. I believe it is important to attend events like this as it leads to open discussions. We cannot save the world with a #hashtag, a point that was made at the One Young World conference in Ottawa 2016, as participants from countries with low access to internet proclaimed that it is not a global solution. However, I do happen to believe it can make huge difference, with social media influencing our daily lives. We cannot save the world with a #hashtag, but we can try.