Disclaimer: This article discusses sexual harassment and assault, and subjects some readers may find disturbing. If you have been affected by any of the topics in this article, please do not hesitate to contact student support at [email protected]
By Tirion Davies | Editor-in-Chief
A global discourse began in March 2021 surrounding the safety of women, after 33-year-old Sarah Everard went missing in South London. The 33-year-old marketing executive was walking to her home in Brixton when she was abducted.
A Metropolitan Police Officer, Wayne Couzens, was arrested on March 9, a week after Sarah’s disappearance, in connection with her murder. On March 10, it was announced her remains had been found in a woodland in Ashford, Kent, and Couzens was charged with kidnapping and murder.
The initial disappearance of Sarah Everard gained global interest, and soon her disappearance began a global discussion about the safety of women and accountability. For many women, Sarah Everard’s story sounded similar to experiences they themselves had faced; the biggest difference being that they made it home and lived to tell the tale.
Vigils for Everard were held all over the UK, including here in Cardiff. The events, organised by ‘Reclaim the Streets’, were cancelled and moved online, although the event on Clapham Common continued, with Metropolitan police officers breaking up the vigil by pulling women away from the memorial.
Organisers of Reclaim the Night had said at the time that continuing with the vigils in person would have incurred a £20,000 fine, noting that perhaps instead of a vigil, being able to raise the same amount and donate it to a charity aiding women would be more beneficial.
However, since Sarah Everard’s death, more and more concerning reports have begun to surface of incidents which have happened across Cardiff. Many women have noted incidents of men and students harassing them in public spaces, or attempting to sexually assault them.
A report by the Guardian was released on March 10 2021, where it was found that 97% of young women aged 18-24 have experienced sexual harassment, with 80% of women of all ages noting they had been sexually harassed in a public space.
The YouGov survey by UN Women of more than 1,000 women, indicated a general lack of faith had by women in the UK authorities’ ability to deal with sexual harassment incidents. 96% of respondents on the survey noted they had not reported the incidents, with 45% of those claiming they would not change this decision.
A poll by The Tab, which asked 14,000 students in Britain whether or not they had been groped in clubs, shows that 91% of women who answered said they had experienced sexual harassment and assault.
The issue wasn’t exclusive to women, however. Overall, 82% of uni scholars, both male, and female, told the consent and sexual assault survey that they had experienced groping, with 61% of men noting they had experienced groping.
In the study, Cardiff University was found to be the second-worst university in the UK for experiencing groping on a night out, with 95% of students saying they had experienced some form of sexual harassment.
Incidents in Cardiff
Ghoncheh Habibiazad, an International Journalism Masters student at Cardiff University, warned female students of staying safe throughout the city after she and two friends were followed. Habibiazad took to Facebook’s popular group page ‘Overheard at Cardiff Uni’ to explain the incident, including a phone call she had been on with the police.
The post, which includes a video of the offender shouting at Ghoncheh Habibiazad and two friends, noted that they had been followed through the city centre after leaving Bute Park. While attempting to remain calm, Habibiazad called 999 and was quickly redirected to South Wales Police, where she had a lengthy conversation with the officer on the other line.
The man was later taken by a police van to be questioned, but Ghoncheh Habibiazad warned of the dangers within the city. Despite being with two friends at the time of the incident, Habibiazad was visibly shaken in the video.
A week prior to the incident experienced by Ghoncheh Habibiazad and her friends, a report surfaced on Facebook group ‘The Mill Residents’, a group for residents of the Mill area of Cardiff. The woman, who wished to remain anonymous, noted that she had been groped while walking her dog through busy fields one afternoon.
She stated that as she began to phone the police, the man continued to follow her until she reached an opening, at the entrance of another estate.
Anne Marie Davies, a parent who works at Cardiff University, responded to the report made to ‘The Mill Residences’ group, noting how the report made her worried for her daughter, who attended school in the area adjoining Sanatorium Park, where the incident is alleged to have occurred. Anne Marie Davies said,
“To know that a person lies in wait in the middle of the day and then brazenly grabs a woman’s bottom in unacceptable. She was someone who sadly was prepared with a rape alarm but too shocked to react.
“[my daughter] feels lucky she wasn’t in those areas. I want my 12 year old daughter to be able to walk safely”.
In response to the report, a protest was organised on Sunday April 18 to ‘Reclaim Sanatorium Park’.
A socially distanced sit-in was organised, to “protest recent incidents of sexual assault against women in the park”, with many noting their shock at an incident of the sort happening so obviously in the area which many believed to be safe.
A series of videos began surfacing recently on popular social media platform TikTok, with users alleging that April 24 was being referred to as “national rape day” by many.
The initial video, which has since been deleted from TikTok, showed a user referencing a 2019 Urban Dictionary definition of “national rape day”, claiming it to be April 24. Showing the Urban Dictionary definition, which has since been deleted from their website, caused numerous users on TikTok to believe the video was true.
According to CrowdTangle, more than 1,000 Facebook posts and over 50 Instagram post began emerging about “national rape day” soon after the video first appeared on TikTok.
A representative for TikTok reported to USA Today that the platform had “not found evidence” of any videos discussing “national rape day” as genuine, although did note “our safety team is remaining vigilant and we will remove content that violates our policies”.
Reports of the April 24 videos began circulating around universities, with male students at Cardiff University allegedly creating group chats in which they discussed female students they could prey on. Some female students have reported they had been told by the University that during the investigation into the group chats, their names had been added to a “list”.
Cardiff University Football Club heard of the rumours, and the discussion about Cardiff University students’ involvement in the incident, and began a service in which students could contact the team to help them walk home on the evening of Saturday, April 24.
Ben Marett, 22, posted in ‘Overheard at Cardiff University’ that Cardiff University Football Club would be wearing their trademark red quarter-zip fleeces, and walking around Cathays to ensure female students felt safe. Members of the Facebook group were asked to message a member of the team at any time through Saturday evening and early Sunday morning if they were in need of any assistance.
Cardiff University responded to the alleged group chats, with a Cardiff University spokesperson noting,
“We want to make it absolutely clear: we are taking these matters seriously. We have passed this information to colleagues at South Wales Police and University security are also aware.
“We take a zero-tolerance approach to violence and abuse, including threats of violence. Anyone who is behaving in this way or supporting behaviour will be subject to disciplinary procedures.”
Pro Vice-Chancellor Claire Morgan responded to the incident by noting that Bystander Training is available to students, with a focus on the impact of violence and abuse, by providing students with safe ways of directly or indirectly intervening when witnesses abuse or violence.
Cardiff University encourages that any student who knows of or they themselves are involved in the abhorrent messages as of late get in touch with the University so that a formal investigation can occur.
With the threat of April 24 and multiple reports of incidents in Cardiff over the past few weeks, how safe is Cardiff really for students and women?
In a report by the Office of National Statistics for the year ending March 2020, unwanted sexual touching was the most common type of sexual assault in 2020 in England and Wales. 1.8 percent of adults aged 16 to 74 years experienced sexual assault in 2020, with a total of 162,936 sexual offences recorded by the police in England and Wales by March 2020. Although figures have yet to be released for 2021, there is an expectation that the rate of sexual assault and harassment will rise again in England and Wales.
There are parts of Cardiff which, unfortunately, remain notoriously unsafe for students, including poorly-lit streets like Rhymney Street and Richmond Road. Things are beginning to change, however, with Cardiff University encouraging students to report any inappropriate behaviour, and with incidents raising awareness of the safety of women across the world.
Despite the horrors of disappearances like Sarah Everard’s, it has begun a discourse within Cardiff of what is needed in order to help women feel safe around the city, with people more willing to help than ever before.
For many, however, change is still needed, with further incidents around Cardiff being reported by women every day. Is Cardiff safe for women isn’t necessarily the question. Is anywhere safe for women in 2021?