Breaking the Silence and extending our support

by Alexandra Alridge on 4 December 2017


The last month has seen a flood - or better a tidal wave - of news stories of sexual harassment, from Hollywood to Westminster. The recent #metoo campaign has further drawn attention to the magnitude of sexual violence and its victims. For myself and many others, the extent of harassment is perhaps unsurprising given our own experiences, however learning of victim’s suffering is always going to be harrowing and frustrating. It is unfair that the burden falls on the victims to call out unacceptable behaviour time and time again, particularly if this doesn’t lead to actual change.

Cases that involve celebrities (just a very small selection here, here and here) inevitably generate lots of headlines and coverage, which begs the question of how much sexual violence occurs in less newsworthy settings. Academia isn’t Hollywood, but sexual misconduct is still rife. I could talk endlessly about the experiences of myself and my peers; in particular the irony of the young guys who self-identify as ‘feminist’, with Judith Butler books on their shelves used to lure women into their beds.

The ‘Breaking the Silence’ campaign, which is specifically targeted at dealing with sexual misconduct at our university. The campaign facilitates a safe space for us to speak up, which can often be one of the hardest things to do. It provides us with information regarding who to talk to and where to go. Speaking out can be done anonymously. It aims to combat feelings of shame and guilt that so often accompany experiences of sexual violence; shifting perceptions and holding those at fault truly accountable.

Another aim of the campaign is addressing misconceptions about what harassment actually means. Often we keep silent about inappropriate behaviour because we believe that it wasn’t serious enough. We are told to brush it aside, to ignore it, or to learn to take a joke. This is unacceptable; we need to feel confident knowing that we have the right to be in academic spaces without being constantly vigilant, and to be treated with basic respect.

Finally the campaign aims to ‘address culture as well as conduct’. This is key, as speaking out is tough, and it is important that doing so leads to actual lasting change. Sexual violence should never be silenced and it should never be a part of anybody’s university experience. We have an amazingly supportive community of women here at Lucy, and the campaign is crucial in extending that support into our wider university experiences, outside of our college.