Sexual assault is normalised, and women are told that it is our fault

Written by by Georgia Hilton-Buckley

I don’t deserve to feel scared every time I leave the house past five. I don’t deserve the burden of making sure my phone tracking is on, that I’m wearing shoes I can run in when I go for a walk. I especially don’t deserve the lecherous glances of men old enough to be my father every time I wear a skirt.

A post was recently circulated on the online Leicester forum, Leicfess, warning about an Instagram page that was leaking the addresses and names of girls who were ‘easy to rape’. The page also posted stories encouraging men to rape because ‘you don’t have to worry about contraception’ and ‘ you can do whatever you want’. Horrified by this, me and my Leicester based female and non-binary identifying friends immediately downloaded a tracking app and linked our phones together so we could always keep an eye on each other, I personally went downstairs to double check all the locks on the doors and windows. While this incident might seem outrageous and disgusting, it’s something we are used to.

When I was twelve, a rumour circulated school regarding a ‘white van man’ who was pulling girls in school uniforms into his van and raping them. Around the same time, we were told not to walk in a certain park because a man in his twenties was flashing, and publicly masturbating towards girls from my school. Cross country was banned because a man chased two girls down the street, and we just accepted this. We changed the way we walked home, travelled in large groups, and avoided eye contact with men driving so we weren’t subjected to harassment.

Sexual assault and harassment is normalised for women, and we are told to stay scared to protect ourselves, anything that happens is our fault. The infamous case of Brock Turner, who only served six months for raping an unconscious woman after he was caught in the act. Turner was pardoned partially because he was considered a good student and the judge was reluctant to ‘ruin his life’. The other factor was the questions raised regarding the victim’s promiscuity, her clothes, levels of intoxication and previous behaviour were all discussed in court and ultimately declared that she should take some responsibility for being raped. Twitter frequently highlights how unfair this, the toxic boys will be boys, and the slut-shaming attitudes are. Susan Brownmiller’s essential feminist literature, “Against our will: Men, Women and rape”, made clear arguments about this, stating how the patriarchy is maintained through the fear of rape: #men are free because they live without this eternal pressure to stay safe.

When I was applying to University in 2018, my first choice was University of Warwick. Shortly after I accepted my offer, the Rape chat scandal emerged. Vile, derogatory and frankly inhumane messages surfaced which I do not want to quote in this article. The chat consisted of several boys on the History society committee, and the thought of being on campus with people like this in a matter of months terrified me, but I didn’t consider changing my place. I thought it was something I would just have to endure, and it would be worth it to go to a top university. While at the time I was devastated I didn’t receive the grades needed, I am so grateful now because I don’t want to be at a university that handles situations like these so poorly. The students were eventually banned from campus – but only after it was initially reported that some of the culprits were essentially getting off with a warning.

So many Universities across the country have failed in similar ways. A 2017 Guardian investigation revealed hundreds of claims were either withdrawn, thrown out for evidence or just encouraged not to go public. Women were being silenced, and their abusers were allowed to walk around campus with no punishment. Universities need to take sexual assault more seriously to help fight against this fear that plagues modern women.

I was first cat-called when I was ten, and still am today. We need an overhaul in how universities, and society as a whole, handle sexual assault. Chronic under-funding of campus safety measures and support services, as well as a painfully slow process, results in trauma being extended and safety being compromised. This supposed Instagram account based in Leicester, leaking ‘rape girls’ is another layer of microaggressions meant to keep us scared, but we don’t have to be.

Mobilise, protest and make change.

Georgia is a third politics student at the University of Leicester with an interest in literature, philosophy, and culture.

Image from Canva

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