Content warning: mentions of rape and sexual assault
An anonymous Instagram account collecting stories of sexual assault at St Andrews University has gained the attention of the Scottish media, bringing the issue of consent and sexual harassment on campus to the forefront of discussion.
“St Andrews Survivors” was set up at the beginning of July and offers survivors a platform through which stories of sexual assault and rape can be shared. The account already has over 5,000 followers and received over 100 submissions within its first 24 hours.
According to The Telegraph at least nine of the stories connect to the St Andrews University branch of the US-based “Alpha Epsilon Pi” fraternity, with much of the media attention focusing on the fraternity. They have since responded to say that several of its members have been suspended and that it will conduct a comprehensive investigation.
In an exclusive interview with The Guardian, administrators of the account described what they call a rape culture present throughout UK university and college campuses. Despite the overwhelming number of submissions that the account received, local police say that no reports of sexual assault or rape have yet been made. The administrators behind the account claim that the alleged power and privilege of the perpetrators may be hindering survivors coming forward.
Yet the “St Andrews Survivors” account may be proof that students can hold universities to account on issues such as consent and sexual assault. The vice-principal of education at St Andrews University has met with the founder of the account and appointed a senior member of university staff to regularly meet with the St Andrews Survival Group and other student leaders. Under a “change we want to see” section, accessed via a link in the biography of the Instagram account, “St Andrews Survivors” call for a mandatory consent and sexual harassment course for all students and proposes that the university makes a safe room available every night that the union is open. The university responded quickly to introduce an online mandatory “Get Consent” workshop for all students matriculating this autumn.
Vice-Principal of Education, Professor Clare Peddie, said “I am committed to doing everything in my power to drive an institution-wide approach to cultural change. Gender Based Violence has no place in our community and I will continue to engage with students, staff, expert specialist voluntary and community organisations to support the delivery of student-centred services, improve students’ experiences, and instil confidence that the institution will support survivors.”
The account comes as a report by Oxford University’s sexual violence and harassment service demonstrated a fifteenfold rise in reports of sexual violence within the space of one year. The report found that the largest percentage of students who sought support had experienced an instance of sexual violence during their fresher’s week. Additionally, the report revealed that the majority of students accessing the service were female and that most students only sought out support six months after the incident had happened.
Fiona Drouet, whose daughter killed herself in 2016 as a result of an abusive relationship with a fellow student at Aberdeen University, has campaigned to tackle gender-based violence in colleges and universities. She has previously highlighted a lack of consistency on the issue across the higher-education sector. St Andrews University’s decision to introduce mandatory sexual harassment and consent training for all students, further highlights the disparity in policies designed to tackle gender-based violence across Scottish universities.
Currently the University of Edinburgh does not require matriculating students to undertake any mandatory consent and sexual harassment training. This is despite instances of sexual assault and improper conduct on Edinburgh University campuses attracting media coverage over the previous two years.
In January 2019 Felix Beck, an undergraduate student at the university, was sentenced to three years imprisonment for the serious sexual assault of a fellow student in October 2016 in university halls. Beck was allowed to continue his studies on campus whilst the investigation was ongoing.
In April 2019 Ross Bain, a senior instructor at Edinburgh University Sport and Exercise, was sacked after suggesting in a work WhatsApp group that a woman who failed to turn up to a class should have been “raped”. The comments were raised with the university’s HR department in January 2019 but Bain was only sacked in April, after an open letter signed by over 800 students was sent to the vice-chancellor.
Image: Remi Mathis via Wikimedia Commons