Karli Wagener’s Vigil speech – Everyone must play their part in tackling sexual violence at university

Gender based Violence is a global issue, a national issue, a local issue and perhaps a personal issue to too many of us here today.

Until recently gender-based violence has been seen as something private; it’s not talked about in public and not enough action is being taken. Gender stereotypes are so deeply embedded in our identities; starting from a young age, with the way we are brought up and expected to conform to these constricting roles.

These norms and constrictions sow the seeds of the power imbalance at an incredibly early stage of life, which are at the heart of the issue we are here discussing today.

In order to address the issue of gender-based violence, we need to change the way we educate and bring up our children. We need to ensure future generations don’t learn the biases deep-rooted within us. This requires us to acknowledge and unlearn these biases.

We need to teach consent as fundamental. And by consent, I mean teaching everyone from a young age that their body is their property and only they can decide what their body does, who touches it or hugs them and how to say no.

No is a full sentence.

We need to change the way we teach sex education. Remove the focus from cis-gendered heterosexual sex and male ejaculation to female pleasure, normalising talking about female masturbation and that sex is not just for procreation, it can and should be fun for everyone.

Men need to call out their mates for cat-calling, talking about women in a hyper-sexualised way, groping and ‘banter’ which is not funny, but harassment.

Without proper accountability, ‘casual’ harassment breeds a culture that is okay with women being raped and murdered whilst walking home. It shouldn’t take someone dying and being reported in the national press for society to push for change.

This is not just a national problem, and if we want to push for change, we need to start at a local level, at the University of Leicester and within ourselves.

Many of you will know about the efforts from the #MeTooOnCampus activists and their allies to make this campus a safer place and increase support for survivors.

MTOC campaigned for the good night out training for O2 staff, more counsellors at Leicester specifically campaigning for those specialized in SV Trauma. MTOC also held talks to educate students and have initiated many impactful changes.

Mia has been working tirelessly, getting Martha and Empowered Campus to review our procedures and make them more victim focused. She has also supported numerous survivors and fought for justice.

The SU Support Team and I created a survivor guide to empower survivors to make educated decisions on where to go for support. These Guides can be found in cubicles around campus and accommodation kitchens once the university is allowed to open up.

Personal alarms can be picked up from different locations around campus. Hannah did some great work earlier in the year to ensure high-visibility strips were available for people running after dark.

The Union’s officers are lobbying local MPs and the Council over safety within Victoria Park. Our University SV team, standing together, has rolled out a trail for bystander and consent training which we push to be made compulsory going forward.

These are all actions we are taking to improve the safety and support of our student survivors.

But let’s be real. We shouldn’t have to do this. We shouldn’t have to take on ownership to protect ourselves from attackers. It shouldn’t be a choice to overpower someone in this way. The ownership should be on the attacker and their friends to educate them and call them out.

Currently there’s a big push for that on social media, but it seems like many are pushing for this on a national level, but draw the line for change when it comes to their personal lives. This happens everywhere and every day. It happens here.

We need to ask ourselves this: whose behaviours are we blind to and who are we afraid to call out in fear of ruining a friendship? This silence is part of the problem and therefore we all play a big part in this change.

This type of violence is all about power and control. We as survivors shouldn’t have to fight to be in control over our own bodies or fight to regain the power that was taken from us forcefully. It should be on the ones who chose to take that power from us. Right now, we have the power to change, and it starts right here.

Karli Wagener is the Students’ Union Wellbeing Officer

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