TW; Rape, Sexual assault
In 2017, UK students (6.4%) were more likely to have been victims of sexual assault than adults of other occupations. (ONS 2017)
It’s university results day and everyone on my LinkedIn feed is delighted. Or thrilled. Or ecstatic.
I get it, these results have solidified our degree classifications and mark the end of three years of hard work. And these people have worked hard - under a global pandemic, no less - but I can't help but feel that missing out on that final semester due to COVID was not even the worst thing to happen to me during my degree.
The first major disruption to my studies happened a few weeks into my first semester. Freshers was over, but the novelty of being a student and living away from home was still there. It came in the form of a boy from my course, one who was part of my first university group of friends. On one night out with our group, he would offer to make sure I got home safe, as we both left early. He - a little too sober. I - a little too drunk.
Most sexual assaults are perpetrated by former partners or family members. However, of the remaining group, in 58% of cases the perpetrator and the victim were known acquaintances. (ONS 2017)
Out of the club and with my guard down around someone I trusted, I succumbed to the vodka shots and cheap wine I had drank earlier in the night. I didn’t, couldn’t, pay attention as he instructed the taxi driver to take a route which wouldn’t stop by my student house. Instead, we both went to his halls; a place which had grown familiar after numerous pre-drinks and “afters”. Just about awake, I remember him saying that I could claim his bed for the night and he would sleep on the floor.
And, this was almost exactly the way we woke up - him on the floor, I in the bed. Two friends, sharing the aftermath of a failed night out.
A bit more chilly and achy than my typical hangover, I tried to pull myself together to make it to a lecture that I already knew I wouldn’t be concentrating through. Feeling weirdly clammy and pained between my legs, I felt that my underwear was missing under my skirt and a few buttons were pulled undone on my shirt - not the way I would typically sleep.
Confused and with no recollection of getting undressed the night before, I turned to my friend for an explanation. He claimed we had sex, unprotected and unrecalled by me. I asked him why he then slept on the floor, to which he replied that I didn't want him in the bed.
In that moment, so many things weren’t making sense. Why? How could we have slept together if I wouldn't let him in the bed? Why couldn't I remember it? And why were some of my clothes still on? In that moment, all I wanted to do was leave, but my phone was dead. I asked if I could borrow his to check my bus home.
He handed it over, forgetting that his Facebook messenger was open. I caught a glimpse of messages, where he was talking about me in group chats, explaining the details of what happened the night before to his friends from home.
The messages included pictures of me asleep. Some said things like “she’s passed out”, amongst others detailing the sexual things he had done. Even more confused, I asked him not to tell anyone, walked out and headed home.
I’m not sure what a women’s bus home would have done to protect me from a trusted male friend who felt so entitled to my body that he would assault me.
For many of us, we go to university and are offered guidance on how to protect ourselves: told we can pick up a personal alarm from the students union, or hand in our student cards to make sure we never forfeit a taxi in favour of walking home from a night out to save a bit of money.
While this advice is somewhat well intentioned, it puts all the responsibility on the victim and doesn't do much to deconstruct rape culture as a whole. I’m not sure what a women's bus would have done to protect me from somebody who called himself my friend. A friend who had been so conditioned to believe that he was entitled to the bodies of women, that when trusted to get a vulnerable friend home safe, he would assault them.
Now, I’m four years on after being discouraged from making a complaint by my university “because he [the perpetrator] would know who I was”
What was the start of what was sold to me to be the best years of my life, ended up being one of the most emotionally draining and traumatic instead. Now, I’m four years on after being discouraged from making a complaint by my university “because he [the perpetrator] would know who I was” and eventually dropping out from my first university. I went somewhere new and went on to get the 2:1, throwing myself into university social life as a distraction and an irrational attempt at making up for my terrible first year.
But, now I’ve completed my degree, I’m still disappointed, still feel let down and still feel that I haven't had justice. I’m hoping that I can afford therapy on a grad job salary, and more relieved that this stage is over rather than proud of everything I’ve achieved.
The chapter is closed now, but I cant move on without worrying about all the students starting university this September. How in amongst them, there may be a girl like me - her university dream about to turn into a nightmare because we haven’t collectively done enough to dismantle rape culture.