Sexual violence: supporting Edinburgh university students

Content warning: sexual violence. Never before has the conversation around sexual violence been so prevalent in the media. In the past few months, following the #MeToo blow up on social media, the #TimesUp campaign with international icons coming forward to share their experiences with sexual abuse, and the 2018 Women’s Marches, the door for conversation about sexual violence has finally been opened.

Sexual violence as defined by the CDC is “completed or attempted unwanted vaginal, oral, or anal insertion through use of physical force or threats to bring physical harm towards the victim.” The Rape Crisis Centre of Scotland reports that one in 10 women have experienced rape. On university campuses, specifically, in 2010, 68 per cent of female students had “experienced verbal or physical assault” and 17 per cent of students reported having been harassed during their very first week of University (NUS). As one of the largest Scottish Universities, sexual violence is a problem that we cannot ignore.

Following the start of the new year, the University of Edinburgh is wrapping up their ‘No One Asks For It campaign’ (NOAFI) and embarking on an upcoming campaign against sexual violence. As you may have seen around campus, the NOAFI campaign used lips with messages such as “violate me” or “grope me”, to elicit reactions intended to convey the message that, as the title suggests, no one asks for sexual harassment. The new campaign, which is still in the works, will be designed to address the rampant criticisms of NOAFI. Some of the most common critiques included: its use of triggering visuals and language for survivors, the difficulty for students in connecting with its few initiatives, its relatively short lifespan, and the fact that it employed a strictly “preventative” strategy, resulting in a lack of outreach for survivors. The new 2018 campaign aims to tackle the prevalence of sexual violence on campus in a more hands-on manner. The focus will be on both potential harassers and survivors of sexual violence, and interacting more closely with the student body.

One of the main problems around tackling sexual violence and ensuring victims get the support they need is the fear of speaking out. Although many of us will not personally experience sexual violence, it is important not to be a bystander to the issue. Vocalising concerns about potential harassers or victims can be overwhelming and daunting due to fears of tarnishing relationships with friends and family. However as much as speaking out may feel uneasy, dialogue matters. The bravery of women, particularly those in the media in talking about concerns as well as their own experiences is what has led us to this movement. 

In the spirit of outreach, compiled below is a list of resources concerning sexual violence. Take out your phone, add these numbers to your contacts. Whether you are a survivor or you have never experienced sexual violence before, it is important to be informed    about the support that’s out there. 

The main contact you should have is the Rape Crisis Centre of Edinburgh, accessible at 0808 802 999. Next, Victim Support’s support line is 0808 168 9111. They offer free and confidential services to anyone who has been sexually assaulted. Their volunteers can even visit survivors at home, or somewhere else for face-to-face discussion.

Galop, the LGBT and anti-violence charity, provides confidential services to LGBT people who have experienced sexual assault, abuse or violence. Their helpline can be reached at 020 7704 2040, and a full list of their services can be found on their website. www.galop.org.uk/sexualviolence

Lastly, Survivors UK (survivorsuk.org) provides services for male rape and sexual abuse survivors. They offer counselling and therapy appointments as well as online chats. SurvivorsUK “welcomes anyone who identifies as male, trans, non-binary, or has identified as male in the past.”

Finally, a message to anyone who has suffered from sexual violence: your experience is valid. You did not deserve what happened to you, and perhaps most importantly you are not responsible.

It is okay to feel ashamed and guilty, but know that you have options, and most importantly, you are not alone.

image: Her Culture via pixabay

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