One In Five
Written by Honor Boulton and originally published in December 2017 on Our Progress Project.
TRIGGER WARNING: rape and sexual assault.
A recent article by the Independent found that 79% of young people have witnessed sexual assault on a night out. The Sexual Offences Act 2003 defines the elements of this offence to include a person intentionally touching another person where the touching is sexual, and the victim does not consent/the perpetrator does not believe that they consent. According to Rape Crisis, 1/71 men and 1/5 women have been sexually assaulted.
The women that I spoke to were open to discussing their own experiences of sexual assault, with the most common offences including being taken advantage of, groped and in some cases even having drinks spiked. This behaviour occurred mostly at house parties, festivals and local night clubs. Overcrowded parties paired with drinking proves to be a formula that breeds sexual harassment as drinking decreases our ability to think straight and raises levels of aggression.
However, the women that I asked found it hard to be taken seriously as the behaviour was perceived as a “part of a night out” which normalises criminal behaviour. In fact, in the UK, only 12% of women will report a sexual assault. Having talked to staff at a local night club, this statistic appears to be true as they rarely get complaints despite all of the women that I had talked to reporting that they had experienced sexual harassment at the same place but not informed anyone at the club. The victims of sexual assault are not just women; people with disabilities and members of the LGBTQ+ community are even more likely to be victims, reflected in hate crime against the LGBTQ+ community rising by 80% in the last 4 years.
Even though men are the most common perpetrators of sexual assault, it is a small minority of the male community that produce a negative image of the majority shown through the over-representation of male rapists in the media. Brock Turner only received three months imprisonment in his sexual assault case which supports evidence from The National Sexual Violence Resource Centre that suggests men are more likely to commit sexual violence in communities where it goes unpunished such as parties, colleges and clubs. This makes sexual assault appear to be a crime that is easy to get away with. But we can change that.
The #MeToo campaign was awarded the Times Person of The Year which is encouraging evidence that sexual assault is no longer going unnoticed. The BBC also produced a documentary called “Male Rape: Breaking the Silence” showing that men are at risk of sexual assault and rape too; in fact 12,000 men are survivors of rape every year in the UK. Other campaigns are also promoting safer night outs such as the “Good Night Out” campaign which since 2004, have been “helping licensed premises adopt best practice policies through a poster campaign and the provision of specialist training” to ensure that young adults have a local safe club to go to. DrinkAware also raise awareness about inappropriate behaviour, how alcohol leads to aggression and the difference between flirting and sexual assault.
Arguably, we should not need to have allocated safe clubs because people should understand how to not sexually assault someone. We need to tackle the cause of the problem and educate both young men and women within school and at home about sexual assault and the importance of consent. Out of the women I spoke to, some said that male friends encouraged inappropriate sexual behaviour, which allows the cycle of toxic masculinity to continue. This is reinforced by Lees’ study which found that young men at school boast about their sexual conquests to gain status from peers, which may suggest that sexual assault is used as a mechanism to improve masculinity and respect. By teaching children the importance of respect and consent at a young age, this cycle could be broken.
It is also important to ensure that when going out, you have a friend or group of friends that can be trusted to look out for you and spot when you are feeling uncomfortable then help you get out of the situation. Even if you do not know someone but they look uncomfortable, there is no harm in checking if they are okay or need help. Several stories online report other people spotting girls and boys that they do not know who appear to be in trouble and pretending to know them to remove them from an uncomfortable situation.
https://rapecrisis.org.uk/statistics.php is a really useful website to learn more about sexual assault, the statistics and what to do if you or a someone you know has been sexually assaulted.
So, be mindful during party season, look out for your friends and have a good time (with consent).