TW: Mention of rape, sexual assault and incest
In France, universities are undergoing their own #MeToo reckoning. The prestigious Sciences Po institutions educate France’s future political elite, but they are now the centre of several sexual misconduct scandals. Within the last few days, their director left after being accused of having prior knowledge of the incest carried out by one of France’s foremost political scientists. This has inspired students to tell their own stories. Using the hashtag #sciencesporcs [a wordplay on the French #MeToo hashtag], they are recounting their experiences of rape and sexual assault. They are speaking up after years of silence and shame in some cases and after their institution actively discouraged them from taking their complaints further. They do this because, quelle horreur!, they fear public scandal and reputational damage. In doing so, they fail to acknowledge the damage they are doing to survivors.
French universities must do better, but let’s not forget that sexual misconduct happens at universities all over the world. From our research into UK institutions, we have learned that sexual violence often happens in plain sight, with survivors often feeling disempowered to do anything about it. Universities are a reflection of wider society, but they also have the power to change it. If female students (and statistically, it is mostly female students) are repeatedly silenced, then the perpetrators will go unpunished and will likely commit their crimes again both on and off campus. But if female students are supported in coming forward, if we listen and punish the people who hurt them, we will send a very clear message that sexual violence will not be tolerated. This can make women, men and non-binary people feel safer during their studies. We can educate people and dispel the usual myths surrounding rape. We can fight back against the idea that the person was ‘asking for it’ or that they’re to blame if they’re drunk. We can prevent our own #sciencesporcs movement here in the UK, if we act now.
Universities must acknowledge that many female survivors of sexual violence at university, as well as those of other gender identities, suffer in silence. Often, students feel unable to come forward, because they fear they won’t be believed or they fear that institutions will take the perpetrator’s side over theirs.
We must encourage universities to create and enforce specific sexual misconduct policies and ask institutions how they aim to tackle violence against women and people of other genders. Speak to survivors, ask them what they need and then provide it. Universities can say they have zero-tolerance, but then they need to back it up.
Here at Reclaim the Campus, we wanted to express our support for the students using #sciencesporcs and those who are still not ready to speak out. Many of us have attended universities with similar issues, or even have personal experiences too. We understand how hard it is. On vous croit. We believe you.
Proofread by Nikita Fillacier and Nky.