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Students protest the university’s sexual violence redressal system

CW: Sexual Violence

A protest took place today at 11am in Bristo square to show support for survivors of sexual assault at the University of Edinburgh, and to demand action from senior leadership on the university’s sexual violence redressal system.

The protest was organised by Aarti Mukhedkar, whose petition to change the redressal system has gathered more than 50,000 signatures, with support from various groups at the university, including the Feminist Society, Girl Up Edinburgh, the Noisy Movement, and members of the Students’ Association.

Students were demanding the university to take accountability for the harm they cause victims of sexual violence, change the redressal system to fully believe and support victims, and to protect their students. 

Image courtesy of Eliška Suchochlebová

In her powerful speech, Aarti spoke about her experience of filing a formal complaint as part of the university’s sexual violence redressal process: 

“When my case was done, dismissed, when I was lied to, manipulated, and thrown out at the other end of the inhuman machine that we call the university, it changed me in ways I cannot even explain. But so did starting the petition, and so did starting this fucking movement.

“I stand here as someone who is still sensitive, still vulnerable, still extremely emotional. These things I will always be. But I realise that they do not make me weak, or any less of an opponent to the university. These things show that I am a human being with a humanity that is reliant on resilience and justice. I wish that I could identify these traits in the university, to see that they have humanity, or any basic principles of morality and fairness. Unfortunately, I am still looking.

“I was disappointed when I realised that the university was testing my capacity as a person of colour, that they weren’t taking me seriously. But just look at those signatures. There are more signatures than there are students at the university: almost double now. And as of now, there are 51,000 plus people who are taking me seriously. So please, watch yourself.”

People who attended the protest were chanting “no more violence, no more rape” and “Peter Mathieson has got to go”, while waving signs such as “sexual assault should not be a part of the university experience”, “believe survivors” and “Edinburgh university protects rapists”.

Image courtesy of Eliška Suchochlebová

When asked why she was protesting, Susanna, a student at the university, explained to The Student

“I’m here to support my friend, who is a survivor, and I am a survivor myself. I’m really glad to see people standing up and speaking out about it. 

“I wasn’t very aware of how the university supports survivors until this petition, which I think speaks volumes about how little it’s talked about and how taboo it is. I’m just happy that it’s finally being brought up to the light and I hope it’s not just survivors who have to fight for this.”

Another student, James, told us that “every apology I’ve ever seen from [the university] has been such a non-apology. They never take any accountability at all.”

Following several speeches by the protest organisers, the megaphone was passed on to any student who wanted to share their thoughts, feelings, or personal experiences with sexual violence. The atmosphere at the protest was both intimate, vulnerable, emotional, and loud, energetic, and angry.

There was a strong sense that sexual violence is a systemic issue that affects a lot of people, and that the university should be doing more to fight against it.

One protestor explained that “it’s a systemic problem that’s not limited to the university, but the university should be doing better, it should be an institution where students feel safe, and for that we need to change the system,” while another one agreed: “Sexual assault is such a systematic issue and it happens all the fucking time and it’s been so normalised, and I’m just really fucking tired of it being normalised. I think that trying to provoke change at the university is a good point to start.”

Image courtesy of Eliška Suchochlebová

After the protest, Aarti told The Student

“I think the turnout was amazing and the amount of emotion and vulnerability and strength that everyone here showed went beyond my expectations: not just the people who spoke, but everyone else who was chanting or who made signs.”

“As of now, the university have got back to me saying that they’re doing a legal review of the system, which is supposed to happen every year but they said that they’re going to prioritise it, however, I’ve not been given any further information about this. I’ve asked them for transparency and to involve me in the matter, because I think survivors’ voices definitely need to be a part of that consultation. 

“I hope this protest will put a little bit of pressure on them, to show that it’s not just something that’s going to be decided behind closed doors and that we very much want to be part of the change that is being made, and involved in how they are going to carry out the change.”

Image courtesy of Eliška Suchochlebová

By Eliška Suchochlebová

Writer, News Editor, Inclusivity Officer