Content Warning: This article contains direct accounts of sexual harassment.
Being ranked one of the top ten universities in the UK consistently for the last few years and with its academic and diversity portfolios widening, it is only natural that an optimist would expect Exeter’s atmosphere to be free of sexual harassment and assault. However, this campus, as with several others, has a reputation for ‘lad culture’ and all the pitfalls that come with such a massive group of followers of said ‘culture.’
Exeter, whilst considered one of the smaller, quieter cities in the UK, does share elements of the culture of sexual harassment rampant across many larger university cities and towns. To begin with, catcalls and comments yelled from cars in town are often heard by many girls who commute to and from the university, especially after dark. These could either be lads in town or university students. Some students feel that the campus itself is not always safe for women either; and several girls report feeling unsafe walking down Hoopern Alley after dark on club nights.
“The worst thing is that you know the guy or else you can’t see his face properly in the club, and honestly you’re just scared in the moment and want to get home”
This atmosphere is, of course, only completed by a heavy drinking culture and a feeling of entitlement. Wednesday TP, when most of the sports clubs release their lot, are avoided by several university girls – one claiming “I prefer other places on a Wednesday, since there isn’t even one Wednesday TP I haven’t gotten groped or harassed in.” The fact that girls have to avoid places they could potentially enjoy for fear of being threatened, insulted, or touched without consent could be said to indicate something about such venues’ lack of care in preventing such incidents. The issue is, however, that some students do not report harassment that occurs during nights out, as a second year Psychology student states – “the worst thing is that you know the guy or else you can’t see his face properly in the club, and honestly you’re just scared in the moment and want to get home.”
Hence, the sad case remains that one in three female students are sexually harassed in the UK, and oftentimes the perpetrators are ‘friends’ the victim knows who downplay the harassment to prove their innocence (aided by the fact that both parties were under the influence of alcohol), or the fact that ‘lad culture’ leads to dismissal of the event by peers and even active bullying if someone reports ‘their boy’. Unfortunately, investigations cannot be made into cases of harassment and assault that go unreported due to aforementioned reasons and the students are often left with psychological trauma – a harrowing fact corroborated by the Office of National Statistics stating that one in four sexual crimes in the UK go unreported.
Sexual assault is not banter, no matter how often perpetrators try to tell you it is
Investigations have, of course, been made into events such as the anti-Semitic t-shirts last year, and the 2016 Falmouth social at which one student wore a jacket bearing the highly offensive slogan ‘I Love Rape’. A boy, no matter how drunk he is, stating publically that he loves rape, should be treated as the threat he is rather than a schoolboy prank. University students are not twelve-year-old schoolchildren discovering the ‘r-word’ for the first time – they are grown adults who know full well the consequences of such words.
Certainly, the university does counter this culture of harassment by campaigns, as do the Guild with #NeverOk and pledges – and several female students do state that Nightline is a tremendous help when they need someone to talk to when in unlit or unsafe areas. Further action needed however, would be in the form of a general mass societal understanding and encouraging of victims to follow-up incidents of sexual harassment or assault with police reports, whether or not the perpetrators claim they ‘can’t remember anything’ or if they were unknown. Sexual assault is not banter, no matter how often perpetrators try to tell you it is.
Shades, the Students’ Guild President, told Exeposé that:
“Sexual harassment is an incredibly serious issue which we as the Students’ Guild have addressed over the past few years and continue to fight, both on campus and around Exeter. Our #NeverOk campaign looks specifically into raising awareness of the different forms of sexual harassment experienced by our students and within society and the ways in which each and every one of us can acknowledge, call out and put an end to harassment culture. We strongly recommend that any of our students affected by sexual harassment visit the Students’ Guild Advice Unit where our trained staff can offer support, advice and information on how to deal with such distressing incidences.”
A University of Exeter spokesman said:
“The University of Exeter has a zero-tolerance policy towards sexual harassment or violence of any kind. The University recognises how distressing these incidents can be and we have trained welfare caseworkers who can work with student victims. These caseworkers can help co-ordinate support for any student subject to harassment, violence or abuse. Victims can also get support from the University’s Wellbeing services and NHS GPs on campus. Student-facing staff at the University of Exeter, such as personal tutors, are also trained to signpost to the appropriate coordinating welfare staff or support, if a student tells them they have experienced harassment or violence. Victims can also get medical, practical and emotional support from specially-trained practitioners and support workers at their nearest specialist sexual assault referral centre (SARC) or rape crisis centre. Anyone who experiences harassment or violence – which can be a criminal offence – can report the incident to the police. The University takes very seriously any breach of student conduct regulations and any incidents which are formally reported are dealt with according to the University’s disciplinary procedures.”
If you or anyone you know has experienced any form of sexual harassment and needs support, Exeposé recommends the following confidential advice services:
Phone: 01392 724000
Devon Rape Crisis and Sexual Abuse Services:
Phone: 01392 204174
Devon Rape and Sexual Abuse Helpline: 0808 800 0188