The news of sexual abuse allegations at an all-male Jewish student fraternity at St Andrews university should be sending shockwaves across the country, but as one student tells, “hearing awful stories about female friends expressing what they’ve been through doesn’t come as a shock any more”. The volume of accounts of sexual abuse and violence on campus are a distressing reality that female university students are all too aware of.
The dangerous normalisation of predatory behaviour in nightclubs particularly is a consistent topic. One friend said, “It’s everyday stories now”, whilst another student commented, “Boys always come up to me and grind against me, my bum gets grabbed”. Neither categorised their experiences as “awful”, but commented that perhaps they should be, stating they do not like these actions.
This in itself is a comment on the culture of predatory behaviour; the non-consensual touching of female bodies is a far too common occurrence, an aggression that is all too familiar to so many female students.
The plethora of testimonies of sexual abuse, in all its forms, begs the important question of what universities are doing about this. One student explains that “given university culture is so synonymous with excessive drinking, drug use and free sexual autonomy, it is even more important to have conversations surrounding consent”. She described optional lectures on consent during Fresher’s Week, but was aware the discussions were framed as “something you might want to consider”, as opposed to an important “you have to listen to this”.
With these crucial conversations poorly expressed, or entirely avoided, universities become places where where victims’ stories are pushed into the shadows. The “narrative of denial” is a consistent theme; one student told me, “mutual friends of mine and his assumed I was lying, because he ‘isn’t like that’.”
The reality of being a female student on campus needs to be addressed by universities far more seriously. Rape allegations are dismissed all too regularly, by universities and peers alike. This extremely problematic notion risks creating a culture of silencing victims, the consequences of which are dangerous.
Ella Garai-Ebner is a student at Birmingham University