St Andrews has, for a reason I don’t understand, become a breeding ground for sexual predators. Boys – because you truly can’t call them men – who believe they are entitled to womens’ bodies and are invincible to any social or legal punishments. At the most basic, boys cat call in the street and send unsolicited sexually suggestive messages. As a woman, I’ve learned to get used to this in the best way I know how, and have developed tactics to deter unwanted advances from intoxicated boys in the Union. However, the use of ‘sorry, my flatmate wants me to go home now’ can’t always work. What would your response be if the setting wasn’t the Union, it was your house? What would your response be if it wasn’t a random intoxicated guy, it was your friend? I found myself in this exact scenario on the night of 4th May 2017.
At the end of my first year of university here at St Andrews, I had moved out of halls and was living by myself in a flat in the center of town. After a night out before the exam period properly began – where, mind you, I was sober, after only having one gin during pres – I invited a male friend back to my house, for what I assumed to be a catch up chat and good fun. This was around half one in the morning. Within a period of three short hours, I had been physically defiled, mentally annihilated, and experienced an emotional blitzkrieg. Between the hours of two and five a.m., I had become a victim of rape. Where before I was a bystander, I now have my own card in the stack.
I, like many other victims of sexual assault around the world, and at this university, did not go to the police or the university with my story, for two reasons. The first being that I did not feel as though I would be believed by either of the aforementioned institutions. Most stories that I have heard from my friends about rape end in the assailant being let off and the victim being socially shamed for attempting to bring the story to light. At the time, I didn’t want to become the ‘girl who cried wolf’ in the eyes of so many who were not willing, or not strong enough, to look at the truth of the situation. I did not want one of the most disturbing and scaring nights of my life publicized and used as a topic of gossip over a flat white at Taste. The second reason I did not approach the university is because my friends, the people I considered my university family, second best only to my blood relations – most of them decided to believe my assailant over me. Most of them chose to downplay it to an alcohol-fuelled mistake, and defended my attacker because they believed ‘he just wouldn’t do something like that’. I learned from this that when someone has been raped, the two most important aspects to recovery are complete control of what you do with what has been done to you, and a strong support system. Here in St Andrews, I felt as though I had neither, and that completely stems from a lack of education on the side of my friends. What happened to me was absolutely not my fault, it was his. If that isn’t inherently known by students here, it needs to be taught. That teaching falls in the lap of the university.
When I read, for example, Yale’s policy on sexual assault and their definition of consent and their policy on sexual assault within the university community, I noticed they include the following snippet: ‘Yale aims to eradicate sexual misconduct through education, training, clear definitions and policies, and serious consequences for policy violations.” Let me compare that to the most parallel statement I could find in St Andrew’s sexual misconduct policy statement – oh wait, I can’t, because nowhere in that document does it use the word ‘education’. Yale’s policy also goes on to define in multiple paragraphs sexual misconduct, harassment, assault, and consent. As a community, we must take a page from Yale’s book and really define what all types of unwanted sexual-based acts are, for the safety of everyone at St Andrews. Where Yale may be described by some as a fruit basket of far-lefters, they are truly in 2018 when it comes to their sexual misconduct policy. Why are we stuck in 1400?
I am a twenty-one year old woman. I have three younger sisters, a mother, a grandmother, and multiple aunts. I cannot speak for anyone else or their personal experiences with rape. I cannot speak for male victims, child victims, or victims in foreign countries. But I can, and I will, begin to speak for myself, and the women in my life who have shouldered this burden with me for the past sixteen months. I will carve a better path for society so my sisters never have to stare dumbly out a window at six in the morning and wonder whether or not a man’s choice was their fault. I do not care if it’s the last thing I do, I do not care if I have to sharpen my words like a machete and slice through every tree in the overgrown forest that has become rape culture in this world. I will be bold where others are timid. I have been hiding my story, my beliefs, and suffocating my God-given right as a woman, and more importantly as a human being, to speak the unspeakable, and to write about what noone today wants to read. I have been privileged. I have been raised in a household that promotes self-love, self-worth, and self-education. I have two amazing parents who, though they have not always known how to respond in the moment, have supported me in ways I could have never have dreamed of in my journey to find the courage and self-worth to write the words I am writing now. I refuse to believe that this is the best we can do as a university community, as a nation, and as a world. I refuse to believe the boy who raped me is incapable of taking responsibility and forging positive change for himself. I just don’t want to be forced to pass him on the street every day while he does it.
To end this article, I say this to the university and the students enrolled in it: wake up. The world is changing. Just because you have been a respected institution for 600 years does not mean you do not have to change with it. An hour long chat at the beginning of first year doesn’t cut it. Victims need a safe haven, and perpetrators need to be brought justice. Sexual assault is not about saving your ass anymore. The response to sexual assault should be about saving potential victims through education of EVERYONE, potential assailants, previous assailants, bystanders, staff and students alike. This movement needs to change the statements of ‘he didn’t mean it’, ‘it could ruin his life’ and, most importantly ‘she’s doing it for attention’. The culture behind believing the assailant first and the victim second needs to be uprooted. While people are making like ostriches and burying their heads in the sand, victims of rape are suffering day in and day out. Of course there is an exception to every single rule, but more often than not, the victim is telling the truth when they say he or she has been sexually assaulted. It takes a stalwart soul to acknowledge and speak out about the atrocities that have been done to you. It takes nothing on the part of the assailant to deny the barbarity they have committed. The system of support for victims and shame for assailants doesn’t need to be amended, it needs to be replaced. This is not a fight to end sexual assault, it is an all out war. And it takes a lot of bravery to fight. I would think such a respected university would want to be remembered for having a hand in changing the world, instead of standing by while others with more courage did it for them.