Rape culture and victim blaming are still all too real at our universities

Feminist activist Helena Horton believes that British universities still have a long way to go

Helena Horton
Monday 15 July 2013 16:32

The University of Kent's attitude to rape and rape counseling is problematic, but sadly not a one-off in university counselling services.

On its rape advice page, which has since been changed due to feedback from students, it suggested that some rapes are the result of a ‘misunderstanding’ and implied that this was sometimes partly due to the victim if there was alcohol involved. It also said that when someone is raped, their ‘innocence’ is stolen.

How are victims meant to recover from their ordeal, at a counseling service that is there to help them, if they are interrogated at every step and blamed for the crimes committed against them? If someone was mugged when they were drunk and less able to defend themselves, I doubt that people would see the crime as any less of a crime; in fact they may be even more on the side of the victim; as the mugger has taken advantage of someone who is vulnerable. Why is this attitude not applied to rape, even in university counseling services?

This victim-blaming and bias in favour of the rapists - criminals - is not on and has angered students old and new.

Kent’s women’s officer Bethany Taylor commented; “I am the woman’s officer and found this whilst doing research for our rape awareness campaign. I am pretty sure it would have been left if I hadn’t found it yesterday. Horrified was not close to my reaction.”

Students at the University of York, where I study, seem to have a better attitude towards rape and rape apology; a campaign successfully took down a student-run Facebook ‘Spotted’ page, wherein students would nominate which people they would ‘do’ and what they would do to them. What’s more, we didn’t jump onto the damaging ‘rate your shag’ bandwagon which has cropped up at universities around the country; instead we had a popular parody page where people rated shag carpets.

However, lad culture still exists. The York Tories hosting a ‘fox hunting’ party where the men dressed as hunters and the women dressed as foxes, to be ‘hunted’, while sports teams still joke about ‘f***ing a fresher’.

Rape culture like this doesn’t seem to be taken seriously by society in general, and it is even more frightening that this is the on campus, when many people are living on their own for the first time, and the excuse of drunkenness is more likely to be used because, yes, there is a lot more alcohol and sex on campus than there is out there in the grown-up world.

It goes without saying that rape is a frightening, traumatic and damaging ordeal and victims of rape often need proper treatment and counselling. They need to be listened to, not questioned and blamed for their traumatic ordeal. Kent’s attitude is symptomatic of a bigger problem in the UK - we need to be taking rape culture seriously.

We need a reform of the university counselling and harassment services, to correctly blame the attacker, not the victim, and offer proper help and mitigating circumstances for those who have been so affected by their experience that they are unable to work to their full potential; we are, after all, at university to learn.

Universities aren’t doing enough. Changing a website page which simply reflects the institutional rape apologism which is inherent in university rape and harassment codes and actions around the country is insufficient.

The NUS isn’t doing enough. Commissioning a report on lad culture that only NUS boffins will read isn’t going to do anything. We need to lay out clear guidelines and let universities know that we are angry and that we want change.

We as a society aren’t doing enough. Instead of making rape jokes about women studying in the library, rating our shags online and joking about preying on impressionable freshers, we should be respecting each other. Instead of asking what our friends were wearing when they got sexually harassed and using alcohol as an excuse, we should be sympathetic. Our friends are confiding in us for a reason, not because they want to be laughed at and shouted down.

Why do we so often assume that the woman is lying, that she was drunk or that she was asking for it? No one asks for assault. People don’t say that victims of other physical assault were ‘asking for it’, or say that it ‘takes two to tango’ when someone is a victim of theft. So why are universities, and people who go to them, treating rape differently?

When someone is raped, their ‘innocence’ isn’t stolen. Sometimes, their life is. Sometimes, their hopes of getting a good degree and reaching their full potential is. Sometimes, their feeling of safety and ability to function without being frightened and traumatised when going out is. The only innocence that is lost is that of the rapist and that of the people who attempt to cover the rape up.

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