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How about - PREVENTing Sexual assault on campus

Tuesday 01-09-2015 - 16:42

The reality is - you're more likely to become a victim of sexual assault and/or harassment on campus than become an extremist.

Trigger warning: Discussion about sexual assault, racism and islamophobia

You only need to do a quick google search for ‘sexual assault and harassment on campus research UK’ to confirm that. Students' unions have been working tirelessly on challenging sexual assault and harassment for years. Yet the government is more concerned with mandating institutions to take part in witch-hunts around extremism, targeting students that display:

  • ‘A need for identity, meaning and belonging’
  • ‘A desire for political or moral change’
  • ‘Relevant mental health issues’

In my experience, these characteristics, these apparent ‘needs and desires’ could be most students within the student movement. Does that make us all extremists? 

Making Prevent statutory as part of the counter-terrorism act is a clear knee-jerk response that has stemmed from racist and islamophobic hysteria that will no doubt be whipped up even more. In this case, amplifying what is already directed towards educational spaces. However, in opposition of the representation that's presented in tabloid media, I'm pretty sure most student officers could tell you that when it comes to student safety, it's things like hate crime, rather than terrorism, that they're most concerned about. 

The Prevent agenda is something that the National Union of Students, elected sabbatical officers and student activists on campuses have made clear is something we don't want. We have said that it's something that will do more harm than good and something that will cause more discrimination on campus, as staff and academics are pressurised to root out something that may not even be happening.

People always ask me about what HEIs are mandated to do in terms of policies and practices around sexual assault and harassment. The truth is not much. I'm normally faced with a bunch of people in high places twiddling their thumbs about how much we can ask of HEIs to deliver on this topic. But when it came to implementing a policy that fed into racist, islamophobic rhetoric and limits students in their political activist development, there was little hesitation to put this in practice.

So in terms of pressuring campuses to enforce policies and resources to prevent sexual assault on campuses, it’s pretty clear to me now that it's not that they can't do it, It's that they won't. It's every student's right to feel safe and secure on campus, and students’ unions are at the best place to talk about the supportive structures that we want. Sexual assault and harassment on campuses aren't rare and isolated incidents, this is a nationwide issue. A global issue, in fact.

We've done the research, written the reports and made the recommendations. What we're asking for is a national framework for universities to work with to develop tailored strategies for their institutions to prevent sexual assault and harassment and support survivors. It's time for the government to stop telling us what they think we need and instead start listening to us about what we know is absolutely necessary.

NUS Women's Campaign is currently looking for funding to hire a specialist consultant to develop a national framework as part of our lad culture strategy work. If you are able to help us to achieve our goal please email - Susuana.Amoah@nus.org.uk. Because, if the government is more interested in feeding into a tabloid, discriminatory and outright racist strategy, we are going to have to find a way to do this work ourselves and create the positive change that students really want to see and actually make our campuses safe and accessible for all.

For more information on the NUS campaign against Prevent check out this blog by NUS VP Welfare Shelly Asquith and this template motion for students’ unions.

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