On 8th March, we celebrated International Women’s Day. A week later, news broke that Sarah Everard’s body had been found in woodland in Kent. Sarah had disappeared on her way home from visiting a friend. She had done all of the things society tells us will prevent sexual assault: she had walked through a busy, well-lit area, she wasn’t drunk, she told her boyfriend she was coming home. The fact that she never arrived, that she simply vanished, has reminded other women of their own experiences and provoked a conversation about the reality of gender-based violence.
A recent YouGov report published this week has suggested that 80% of all women have experienced sexual assault in their lifetime. The harassment and violence that women are subject to is deeply worrying, a threat that begins to creep into our lives even before the age of puberty. The charity RAINN found that 1 in 9 girls under the age of 18 experience sexual violence and assault at the hands of an adult. Perhaps the most shocking statistic for us is that 97% of women aged 18-24 have been sexually assaulted. As we know this age group is consistent with those who attend university, and with such a high frequency of incidents happening, it provides an insight into the harmful cultures that thrive both on and off campus.
The heightened social life that university offers is something that appeals to many: the opportunity to live with friends, join societies and sports clubs whilst studying away from home. However, the cultures within these social settings have a dangerous impact. University sports clubs and societies dominated by men have been pinpointed as a catalyst for sexual violence. This comes at a cost. One in three university students have experienced forms of unwanted sexual contact, including groping, smacking and pinching. Alison Phipps and Isabel Young explored this in their 2015 article exploring the link between lad culture and sexual violence. Two thirds of students that participated in their study described harassment and violence as a normal part of their lives at university and said they are directly linked to the culture of ‘laddism’. The sexism and misogyny that persists within these social networks only adds to the dehumanisation of women.
Laddism is an oppressor, encompassing a cocktail of homophobia, sexism, transphobia and classism. The sports clubs and societies that encompass this cult of toxic masculinity must be held accountable by the universities. Institutions must begin their approach by ensuring they provide students with a clear, supportive reporting system. Students voices must be heard as a matter of safety. In addition to this, consent workshops must be provided in order to begin a open discussion particularly around sex and alcohol consumption. The social aspect of attending university should also fall under the responsibility of the university itself. It is important that students feel safe and supported as they navigate through their studies, and we are demanding that universities do better.
If you have been affected by this, you can seek help and support through the links below: