“Helping you gain control over the things you want to change”
The big problem of sexual assault in our universities.
Now students are back in face to face learning, the authorities need to start acting
With the changes in Covid regulations, most students are now back at university full time, away from home, and living in student accommodation. This is generally great. For most of us, the experience of being at university, meeting new people, living independently for the first time, is one of the most exciting times of life. It is often challenging but rarely boring.
I have noticed that one issue has not gone away, and it is a very worrying issue indeed. This is the very real problem of the high rate of sexual assault on campuses.
Many students do not report sexual assault
It is hard to know exactly how bad things are as there is a lot of evidence that people do not report assaults. But a report last year found that a relatively small group of men were committing multiple assaults. Men are assaulted as well, but it seems that assault is much more common for women.
Bad attitudes to women underly much sexual assault
The report showed that most of the men who committed these offenses believed all the old tired myths about women. These include:
- women who are out on their own are asking for trouble and advertising their availability
- women who dress in a certain way are sending signals of sexual availability to any man who happens to be around
- women who drink are at fault if they are assaulted. They are perceived as risking their own safety and if bad things happen to them they deserve it
- many men who have assaulted women, or who see nothing wrong with such assault, also expressed a general dislike of women.
Victims of sexual assault can internalise toxic attitudes
This is a very upsetting report, but I recognise so much in it. Unfortunately, bad attitudes to women and incorrect beliefs about sex are not limited to male perpetrators.
I know from my own practice that many women who have suffered from sexual assault internalise messages and beliefs which are very damaging to them.
One of these is guilt. Guilt is a very strong emotion that is associated with sexual assault. Behind guilt lies a belief on the part of the victim that she did something wrong.
The belief that it is the victim’s fault is also closely linked to this. I often hear victims say this. Often they replay the event time after time in their mind and then end up blaming themselves for where they were, what they were wearing, whether they had been drinking and a host of other behaviours.
This can be totally destructive. It can wreck the confidence of the victims and make it very difficult to move on.
Some useful action and a suggestion from me
I am pleased to see that some universities in Britain have started to take serious action to change attitudes among their new students. I wonder if it would be an idea to explore these issues as part of the interview process to get into universities in the first place. If this happened then schools would prepare their students as part of the process of helping them get into university. Hopefully, students would go to university with a different attitude to consent, to sexual beliefs, and behaviour. We might just try it. What do you think?