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Edinburgh Uni students protesting sexual misconduct on campus in Bristo Square tomorrow

‘I feel more afraid to be on campus than I do to be in any public place’


Tomorrow morning, at 11am on Friday 9th February, students from the University of Edinburgh will protest in Bristo Square against the “university’s treatment of sexual abuse survivors.”

It will be one year to the date since a similar protest was organised by Aarti Mukhedkar, a then fourth year undergraduate student, against “rape culture” on campus and two years since the first.

 

via Instagram @sexoncampusofficial

It has been jointly organised by student-led groups Girl*Up, Edinburgh University’s Feminist Society (FemSoc), and Sex? on Campus! who are aiming to bring awareness for “how misconduct cases are handled at the uni” which is “the same system followed for a plagiarism complaint.”

This comes after reports of an Edinburgh Uni student being deterred from reporting sexual violence to the police.

The protest is the culmination of “Five Days of Resistance” against gender-based violence on campus, with events this week having included a consent workshop, a poetry workshop and banner painting.

taken by Syl

The tagline for the campaign is #AmINext which is “rooted in the South African context and applies now more than ever in Edinburgh because of its focus on prevention,” says Syjil, the current president of FemSoc.

Kate, a member of Sex? On Campus!, told The Tab Edinburgh: “It’s been very difficult hearing stories and going back three, five, ten years and hearing the same complaints – about the Equally Safe Team, about the university deterring reporting [incidents of sexual violence] to the police.”

She spoke about her own experience of feeling unsafe at university after an incident of sexual misconduct: “The fear we feel about being on campus is unbearable – I have no idea who in my class who is a perpetrator because the uni doesn’t adequately deal with them […] and that’s actually happened to me.

“The university hadn’t adequately dealt with him [a perpetrator] in the past even though there were so many different complaints about him – not necessarily officially – but to staff and I was next.

“I feel more afraid to be on campus than in any public place.”

“I feel more afraid to be on campus than in any public place.”

What is needed? The “longer term goals” of Sex? On Campus! include an “overhaul of the reporting and complaints system – it’s not fit for purpose.

“It’s quite awful to try and go through. Alongside that, there’s no support, no one ever checks up on you after your complaint – it’s not suitable in addressing something as sensitive as sexual violence.”

Sex? On Campus!, a student-led group formed in May 2023, started from the desire to “be at a uni where we could all report things to the university if we felt necessary and keep the rest of our peers safe” – a sentiment echoed by the campaign leader, Kirsten Hay, who told us: “I’d got to boiling point and this felt like the most proactive way of doing something about it.”

They describe Sex? On Campus! as a way to “support survivors on and off campus.” Kate says: “We are what people need us to be.”

Ash, the outreach officer, claims the university have “pledged to change in private meetings” but says “they haven’t done anything in the past few years they can show to students.

“Everyone is welcome at the protest if you are angry at how the university has handled cases of sexual/gender based violence and how the support system is not cut out for anyone that is not white or a woman.”

Thulsa, the president of Girl*Up, says the group will be “speaking at the protest on Friday” and calling for “consent training for students coming in in first year, for staff and for everyone involved across the university.”

Girl*Up is “open to everyone regardless of gender or sexuality” but takes its name due to being an Edinburgh branch of a  UN affiliated wider group. Thulsa tells us: “We run weekly meetings every Tuesday, about topics including reproductive health, deepfakes and gender inequality in storytelling.”

Kirsten wants to emphasise that everybody is welcome at the protest, saying: “We are trying to put pressure on the university – so that this idea of this epidemic of sexual misconduct on campus isn’t kept as some dirty little secret.

“As we grow in our numbers we will prove to the higher up staff who keep continuing to ignore this problem that this is something that really does matter.”

Kate acknowledges that: “Not everybody can come – it’s an incredibly difficult thing to do. If I could say anything to anyone that was coming it’d be that I’m so proud of you.”

The protest will take place in Bristo Square at 11am on Friday 9th February.

If you or someone you know has been affected by this story contact Refuge on their free 24/7 helpline 0808 2000 247 or contact Rape Crisis online for a free confidential chat helpline.

A University of Edinburgh spokesperson said: “We understand the strength of feeling on this issue and we fully recognise the responsibility the University has in tackling violence, abuse and harassment on our campuses.

“We want to make it clear that any reports made to us are taken very seriously and we have processes in place to enable us to investigate these thoroughly, transparently and in a supportive way for all involved. We do not discourage or prevent students from reporting any incident to the Police and we will actively provide information and guidance for those who wish to do so.

“We have a dedicated and specially-trained team who provide advice and support to survivors of abuse, including information on how to contact external organisations and support services. Alongside this team, our Report + Support system enables students to tell the University about any abuse they have suffered, either anonymously or with contact details to obtain wider support.

“We invest significantly in sexual violence prevention and raising awareness of issues around sexual violence. We deliver training for students and staff to promote positive behaviours around sexual consent and tackling harassment, and we continue to work closely with partners in the city and frontline groups to support people in crisis.

“We work closely with our Students’ Association and Sports Union to hear from students and to join up and fund awareness work such as the #NoExcuse Campaign.

“In January 2023 we updated our procedures in response to student feedback, bringing improvements to ensure reports that are made to us are investigated robustly and fairly for all parties, and that those making a report are supported throughout this process.