Content note: this article, or pages it links to, contains information about sexual assault and/or violence which may be upsetting to readers.
In 2010, the NUS' 'Hidden Marks' survey, which examined sexual violence, harrasment and assault against women at universities, found that 7% of respondents had been subject to a serious sexual assault, and over two thirds (68%) had experienced some kind of verbal or non-verbal harassment in and around their institution. This kind of behaviour, including groping, flashing and unwanted sexual comments, had become almost ‘everyday’ for some women students. Survey responses highlighted the detrimental impact of incidents on health, experience of learning, confidence and relationships, and found that shame, embarrassment and fear of blame or being disbelieved were common reasons for not reporting.
In the lead up to International End Violence Against Women Day on 25 November, we spoke to Valentina, a Volunteer Campaign Leader about her involvement in a campaign tackling sexual violence, assault and harassment.
Valentina is 1 of 15 volunteers leading on this campaign and is a second year Multimedia Journalism student. She has taken part in sports clubs such as Taekwondo and Boxing — now she’s knuckling down to her course work, giving her time to lead this campaign and occasionally hit the gym with friends.
Tell us about the campaign you’re working on?
"I’m excited about our new campaign. Right now we don’t have a name — we started working together two weeks ago and we’re focusing on making people aware of consent and healthy relationships. We’re informing everyone about where the line is on those things. Our key audience is students at Manchester Met, and we’re going through a process and learning ourselves. We’re in different years and on different courses. We know what we want to do — start a conversation about consent and healthy relationships to make students more comfortable talking about it and more informed and think we can achieve that through loads of different activities, training and building a community."
What’s the process been like so far?
"I found out about the role on The Union's volunteering page, and this opportunity felt most relevant. Sexual assault can happen to anyone and it’s very topical right now. I signed up, answered a few questions and then attended the assessment centre and training day. At first I felt a lot of pressure, but now I know it’s okay to go to these meetings and meet loads of different people. I think we’re being taken seriously, we’re being given a voice and learning how to have a voice as well.
Why is it important and why should people get involved?
"This is student-led and the issue is easy to ignore but it’s always there whether you like it or not. University is the right place to have this conversation about why different kinds of abuse and sexual harassment happens and how it can be prevented. There’s a high concentration of young people so I think whatever impact we have it’ll be big and effective.
Everyone’s aware of what’s happening around them — more and more we see stories about sexual violence, assault and harassment in the news. Lots of people have had conversations with friends and family members who’ve experienced this and they didn’t know how to approach it or have that conversation. You should get involved because we’re trying to get people talking about this, so if you get involved it’ll make you more comfortable having that conversation.
As a team of volunteers we’re here to lead the campaign and help others get involved — there’ll be events and activities people can get take part in but we want students to shape the campaign right from the start. This is for everyone, it’s not just for women or men it’s for anyone however they identify. It’ll help you and you can help others too."
How can people get involved?
"We’ll be holding an open meeting on 11 December between 13:00 and 15:00 in the Conference Suite. If students want to get involved this is a great place to start."
If you've been affected by any of the issues raised, our Advice Centre is available to help.
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