Ever had your bum groped on a nightout at university? Has someone shouted sexually aggressive statements at you?
From nasty comments to groping, sexual harrassment is defined as behaviour that is unwanted, intimidating or humiliating for the victim. Touching another person in a sexual way when they haven’t consented is defined by the police as sexual assault.
The NUS report ‘That’s What She Said: Women’s experiences of lad culture in higher education’ addresses the 21st century issue of ‘campus culture’.
Interviewees in the research expressed the difficulties of a student life focused on social activities and drinking.
A small number of those interviewed said drinking was a useful tool for social anxiety and others suggested that the pressure to drink and be ‘one of the lads’ was one of the ‘defining things’ in the initial experience of university.
Alongside this, participants talked of the ‘gendering’ of campus culture and the ‘sexualisation’ of women and, in instances, men.
We spoke to students who had faced incidents of sexual violence to find out how it made them feel and the actions they took when it happened.
A third year student was in Sin City when a man was staring at her and touched her inappropriately:
“I was dancing with my friends and boyfriend in Sin City and a stranger reached out and grabbed my vagina. I was so shocked and I pushed him off and when I had a go at him he just laughed.
“He did it again later and I managed to get him kicked out once I explained to the bouncer. But it was genuinely disgusting.”
Another third year student told of her experiences as a staff member in a Wind Street nightclub:
“As someone who works in a nightclub, I’m used to being groped and fondled, and although it’s unpleasant I’ve got used to brushing it aside.
“But back in December I was out on Wind St with my friends and boyfriend, and one of the rugby boys came up to me and stuck his hand all the way up the front of my playsuit (it was baggy around my thighs) and actually started to touch me in *that* area. I pushed him away and he just laughed in my face.
“Not the most dramatic act of sexual violence on a night out, but it left me feeling really unclean and disgusting.
“I think it’s a really important article to do to get the message out that sexual violence does happen on nights out all the time and it’s not okay.”
A quarter of our participants in the NUS survey felt that such sexualised cultures and double standards could easily lead to sexual harassment.
One interviewee from the survey explained her view as follows:
“I don’t think if somebody’s in a big group of lads they think that it’d be ok to have sex with a girl who doesn’t want it but I think definitely with sexual harassment they think its ok to grab a girl’s bum or try and kiss her when she doesn’t want you to, so I think sexual harassment is quite a part of lad culture.”
A number of female students questioned stated they have their ‘bum grabbed or slapped’ by strangers on nights out in Swansea.
“It’s non-uncommon for me and my female friends to have our ass grabbed on nights out. I have heard of my male friends have their bums slapped too,” said a first year student.
Some women use it as a confirmation on their self-esteem:
“If it doesn’t happen on a night out, then I often wonder ‘what’s wrong with me?’ because it happens so regularly,” said one student.
A second year English student tells of her story:
“On more than one occasion, drunk men have pressed their faces into my (admittedly, exposed) cleavage.
“I do not welcome this behaviour and though they are usually not difficult to push away, it is always a bit of a horrible experience.”
Sexual violence is becoming alarmingly normalised on nights out. The NUS report identified ‘lad culture’ with sport and heavy alcohol consumption, ‘banter’, sexism and misogyny, homophobia, sexualisation and the objectification of woman and rape supportive attitudes including sexual harassment.
Throughout our research and reaching out over social media, we found that men had few stories to tell about their experiences with sexual violence in Swansea.
This could be for a number of reasons; men could feel embarrassed about the experiences, they may not be seen as sexuall violence or they may not happen very regularly.
We spoke to one third year student who told of his experience of being touched by a woman in Sin City.
“I was just walking and all of a sudden I had my genitals and chest groped by a girl. I did feel violated but it didn’t trouble me too much at the time because I was drunk.”
Swansea University’s Students’ Union adopted a Zero Tolerance policy in 2009 after it was passed through student forum.
It has been developed and expanded to help keep students safe and help make their student experience harassment and discrimination free.
Women’s officer Rosie Inman said:
“Sexual harassment on nights out is at epidemic levels – I know countless women who have expressed how normalised this behaviour has become and how rare it is to go on a night out without experiencing verbal or physical harassment; whether that’s being catcalled or
groped or worse.
“NUS’ Hidden Marks survey found that 68% of women students had experienced sexual harassment during their time at university. This figure is simply unacceptable, and our students’ union is committed to ending this culture of harassment and violence.
“All of our venues operate under a Zero Tolerance to sexual harassment policy – if you experience or witness sexual harassment on any SU night (which includes any unwanted touching or persistent, unwanted comments) please report it to a staff member who will remove the perpetrator from the venue, or email firstname.lastname@example.org.”