After a number of assaults in the Cathays area last week, sexual harassment has become a very real issue for Cardiff University. Last week, Gair Rhydd reported of two incidents of students being harassed on their way home from ‘Y Plas’ nightclub in the Students’ Union, and a further student being followed and cat-called for an extended period simply for being outdoors after dark. While Cardiff University takes an official ‘zero tolerance’ approach to sexual harassment, it is very difficult to police; much of sexual harassment goes unreported because many do not understand what the term ‘harassment’ entails.
For many female students – myself included – it has become so much the norm that we often do not realise that unwanted sexual attention in nightclubs, the groping and ass-grabbing without consent, the uncomfortable bodily proximity and the cat-calling all constitute sexual harassment. The fact that sexual harassment exists at all is unacceptable; women should not be scared to walk home by themselves due to their experiences with men treating them as sexual objects, they should not have to fear when walking past men at night. However, as seen from last week’s incidents, the fear seems to be justified, and the fact that many forms of sexual harassment have become naturalised within society only exacerbates the issue. With whom does the responsibility lie in eliminating this fear? Is it with the university and its ‘zero-tolerance’ policy? Is it with societies and its members, so often demonised as the proponents of ‘lad’ culture? Or does the responsibility lie with the entire student population, both male and female?
The fact of the matter is that this responsibility lies with all of the above. While the Students’ Union can’t necessarily police the entirety of their premises and Cathays, they can provide information and workshops regarding sexual harassment, informing the student populace of what constitutes harassment, preventative measures and how to react should the situation arise. If the evidence dictates that young women are at greater risk walking home after nights out, the Union should perhaps consider providing safe transit to these students i.e. a system akin to Reading University’s shuttle busses. For societies, committees should attempt to curb any behaviour from their members that could be deemed as harassment, and if they aren’t already, they should be actively promoting a welcoming, safe environment, arguably the keystone of any society. Perhaps if they receive complaints about particular members on multiple occasions, they should consider the imposition of sanctions or exclusions from games/socials, demonstrating how they will not tolerate any such behaviour.
Despite all these possible measures, ultimately it is up to us as individuals to realise the seriousness of sexual harassment. The lad culture that has materialised as of recent is not acceptable; we need to change people’s perceptions of women and respect, and the university can only do so much to encourage this. With the meteoric rise and fall of the infamous Dapper Laughs we realised simultaneously the proliferation of lad culture, and the growing number of men and women who fought against it, deeming it unacceptable in society. It is worth noting at this point that prejudice exists on both sides; female objectification is clearly a huge issue, but the demonization of all men as sexual aggressors is a toxic perception. Claiming all men are potential perpetrators of sexual harassment is the same as claiming all women who dress up for a night out are ‘asking for it’; it is a gross and false assumption that only leads to inappropriate action by either or both parties.
There are myriad measures we can take to control and eliminate the cases of sexual harassment in the Students’ Union, on the streets of Cardiff or indeed any city in the UK. However to truly ‘nip it in the bud’ so to speak, we need to inform any and all children of the unacceptable nature of harassment of any type, something that begins long before we ever stroll through the doors of university.