Sexual harassment in York: A close investigation

A consultation on sexual harassment by York Student Think Tank has found that 52 per cent of respondents have been victims of sexual harassment.

Participants were asked to answer whether they had suffered from sexual harassment based on a legal definition of the concept provided in the survey. Two hundred and seventy students responded to this question. The most common type of sexual assault experienced while at university was ‘unwanted physical, verbal, or non-verbal conduct of a sexual nature’, followed by ‘comments about the way you look which you find demeaning’.

Fifty-one per cent of students claimed to have witnessed sexual harassment at the university according to the definition of the term ‘sexual harassment’ that they agree with. Seventy-nine per cent of the incidents witnessed involved unwanted physical, verbal or non-verbal conduct of a sexual nature.

The most common occurrences observed by females include groping in nightclubs, notably by older men, indecent comments on clothing, and being heckled and wolf-whistled at on the street and in clubs. One female student revealed her experiences from nights out in York, saying “I’ve had men grab me and forcibly try and rub themselves on me while I have just been dancing with my friends, bouncers commenting on my breasts [and] I have been followed. Men always grab or slap your bum, often quite hard.”

She also told how she had come to expect such events, explaining: “It’s just what I expect on a night out. It doesn’t bother me so much because I’m used to it and feel able to look after myself, but it really just shouldn’t have to be like that.”

Eighty-four per cent of students that have experienced or witnessed sexual harassment did so on student nights in town, while forty-three per cent of incidents were on campus at nighttime. Almost 10 per cent of respondents said that they had experienced or witnessed such incidents in lectures, seminars and contact hours.

The York Think Tank survey also showed that 90 per cent of respondents perceived sexual harassment to be more prevalent among sports teams than any other specific domains of university such as political societies, musical and media societies and academic areas.

However, one participant said: “As a female, I’ve been inappropriately groped by women on several occasions in York nightclubs. I find it interesting how people always make it sound like sportsmen are the assaulters, but for me it has always been a lady.”

When asked about the steps the University’s efficiency in dealing with cases of sexual harassment, one respondent stated: “I don’t think they could be more efficient. Unless they had chaperones at socials and at cafés and bars. And if they carried out background checks on people coming to live in halls of residence.”

However, another student said: “The University do not make support for sexual harassment readily available and many students don’t know where they can get this support from. York should take a better stand against sexual harassment as this kind of behaviour has become normalised on nights out, and that is unacceptable.”

Measures taken in and around the University

Workshops concerning sexual assault prevention and consent were introduced for the first time yesterday during cross-college STYC training. Head STYCs received consent workshops as part of their training for Freshers’ Week which were led by independent sexual assault activist and former college tutor Anaïs Pedica.

The session was designed by Pedica to assist Head STYCs in playing the role of ‘active bystanders’ during Freshers’ Week. It was also intended to help them to feel as though they could intervene when observing students at risk in situations such as club nights in town.

In addition, the training was intended to help STYCs feel confident in supporting freshers as well as other students regarding issues within this area.

Pedica also put in place the first training for college tutors to inform them about what procedures to follow if a student has been assaulted and pushed for a speech on consent which was read at the College Welcome Talks last September. The speech will be repeated during this year’s Freshers’ Week as well.

Speaking of the York Student Think Tank consultation, Pedica said: “I think that’s it’s great that the Think Tank was able to do this survey… More needs to be done in terms of collecting data on sexual violence on this campus to identify what the University can do to tackle this issue.”

She added: “I’m really glad that people like Sam Maguire as YUSU President and Mike Britland as College Officer of James College are taking this very seriously and I hope that the next sabbatical officers as well as more staff members and students will get involved and agree that this is something that we need to spend time thinking about and working on.”

Britland told Nouse: “Consent and sexual assault are important issues, and I think that the University, including our colleges and Students’ Unions, should be at the forefront of educating and empowering our students with the knowledge and vocabulary to understand consent.”

He will be teaming up with Pedica, YUSU and other university staff members during the summer to deliver effective training to college staff and tutors in preparation for the start of the academic year.

A compulsory online VLE module on consent that all STYCs would have to complete before Freshers’ Week is also being developed. Following feedback, the module will then be adapted and made available for completion by students. Posters will also be put up in campus kitchens raising awareness of sexual harassment and assault and what should and shouldn’t be tolerated in line with the law. There will also be information detailing the methods that students can take to report sexual harassment and assault.

Maguire has worked in collaboration with the University to revise and update the pages on the University’s website regarding sexual harassment, resulting in a specific webpage on the topic. YUSU are also working on designing material tackling issues such as anti-social behaviour and consent to deliver at sports committee training during the next few weeks.

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