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‘Edinburgh Anonymous’: the new Instagram account reporting sexual violence in the student community
by Lucy Saddler, 26/07/20

Content warning: mentions of rape and sexual assault

An Instagram account sharing anonymous reports of sexual violence in the Edinburgh student community has been set up, after a similar account focused on the University of St Andrews, “St Andrews Survivors”, received media attention in the last month.

“Edinburgh Anonymous” was created on July 14th and has subsequently attracted over 1,700 followers. Having received over 29 submissions the account has published the stories of 19 survivors.

Although the administrators of “Edinburgh Anonymous” attend the University of Edinburgh, the account is open to students from all higher-education institutions in Edinburgh. Speaking to The Student, an administrator for the account said that their own recent experience of sexual assault allowed them to relate to many of the thoughts and emotions expressed by survivors in the stories published on “St Andrews Survivors”.

They said, “I knew I wanted to provide students in Edinburgh with the same opportunity to share their stories. Overnight it became a spur of the moment decision to set up a similar account and the level of engagement I have had from students within this first week has proven to me how much it was needed.”

The published stories detailed instances of sexual assault, coercion, rape and stealthing- the practice of covertly removing or damaging a condom during sex without consent. The administrators identify a lack of education about the rules around consent as a recurring theme throughout many of the submissions. “Students are lacking in knowledge as to where the lines of consent are drawn, in particular, cases of stealthing or non-violent assaults. One submission even begins by stating that they were unaware stealthing existed until recently, and I’m sure this is the case for many students. There is so much variety to sexual violence.” They went on to add that “when students don’t understand what a crime is, difficulties arise and perpetrators do not understand the lasting impact this can have on a victim.”

Several stories published on the account state that the perpetrator was known to the victim and the administrators speculate that this could be a potential obstacle to survivors reporting their experiences. They said, “Many cases are non-violent and are committed by someone who is known to the victim/survivor. Initially following a traumatic experience, it can be difficult to comprehend what has happened and perhaps students go into a state of denial if the perpetrator was initially someone they could trust.”

Speaking from a wider social perspective, the administrators said, “perhaps these cases of sexual violence have become so normalised in our society that people almost expect it.” Some of the submissions they received were underpinned by a feeling that sexual violence was “something that just happened”. This perception is further exacerbated by what the administrators of the account said was “a sense that it has become so difficult to prove these instances of sexual violence that the amount of stress it will add to the survivor’s life seems unmanageable.”

For now, the administrators are focusing on bringing the account to the attention of a wider audience of students across Edinburgh and “helping students to understand exactly what defines sexual violence”, something that they hope will “make a difference to the student community”. 

“Edinburgh Anonymous” appeared after “St Andrews Survivors” was set up at the beginning of July, attracting widespread media exposure and resulting in the university introducing mandatory consent and sexual harassment training for all matriculating students in September. At least nine of the stories published on the account related to the St Andrews branch of the US-based “Alpha Epsilon Pi” fraternity and subsequently several of its members have been suspended, with the organisation committing to conducting a thorough investigation.

This raises questions as to what higher-education institutions in Edinburgh are doing to educate students about consent and prevent occurrences of sexual violence within the student community. Currently neither the University of Edinburgh nor Heriot-Watt University require students or staff to complete mandatory sexual harassment and consent training. Edinburgh Napier University intends to introduce gender-based violence training for all staff and students later in the year but no specific date has yet been confirmed.

Niamh McCrossan, Vice President of Welfare at Edinburgh University Students’ Association, told The Student, “It’s incredibly important that survivors feel able to share their stories, both for themselves, and because we know that doing so will empower others to come forward and feel less alone. As Vice President of Welfare, my focus this year is on addressing sexual and gender-based violence on campus, particularly through educational initiatives like a mandatory pre-matriculation course for all incoming students on consent and other topics.”

“If any students who have experienced sexual harassment or assault, would like to discuss formally reporting what has happened – either to the University or the Police – then our Advice Place staff are fully trained and here to help.”

Image: Instagram/ Ian Spalter, Joy-Vincent Niemantsverdriet, Eric Goud, Robert Padbury via Wikimedia Commons