To stay safe

It is a crime that harms the victim physically, psychologically and emotionally. It is also one of the only crimes in which the victim is looked to for blame, and judged for their part in provoking the offender. Rape is a crime like no other and reflects our perceptions about gender, sexuality and culpability.

Rape and sexual abuse are also crimes that affect us here at university. The Coventry Rape and Sexual Assault Clinic (CRASAC) reports that 10 per cent of its clients are university students, though as they respect the anonymity of those who come to them they do not know whether they are mostly Warwick or Coventry. The centre noted, however, that there tends to be a peak in calls to their helpline during Freshers’ Week.

Many more incidents go unreported as victims often don’t know where to go or who they can talk to. In a slightly informal survey it was found that almost no female students knew what they should do first if they or someone they know has been sexually assaulted. International students in particular are not familiar with the systems here and may carry different experiences or attitudes. A significant number of young women have been victims of rape or sexual assault. In the vast majority of cases the perpetrators are known to their victims and just over half of them are boyfriends or husbands, current or past.

The University does not keep records of any incidents as it says any that are reported are dealt with by the police. However only between ten and fifteen per cent of cases ever do get reported to the police, for a number of reasons. The conviction rate for rapists in the UK is dangerously low at less than six per cent. Victims know that if the case goes to trial they will not only have to relive the ordeal but often face criticism, disbelief and know that there is little chance the assailant will do any jail time.

There have been measures taken to help students feel safe on campus, such as the blue emergency pillars by Rootes lake and Tocil Wood, and the University is keen to point out that Warwick ranks high on safety in the Student Barometers. Yet the vast majority of incidents of rape or assault happen either in the home of the victim or the assailant. So while these emergency pillars can of course be extremely helpful they alone do not ensure people’s safety. Students need to be made aware of the help and support they can receive and what to do if something happens. Next year’s Freshers’ Fair will have a CRASAC stall handing out information will aims to acquaint students with their services.

One of the principal issues is perceptions and prejudices related to rape. For instance, in 1999 an Italian court ruling declared that a woman who was wearing jeans must have given consent based on the view that jeans will be difficult to remove without her help. Controversy ensued and it took nine years for the courts to reverse their decision and admit that it is possible to rape a woman even if she is wearing jeans. Even though it was changed, the fact that this ruling could happen and that it stood for so long reveals how warped attitudes to rape and the victim often are.

While it is important to not take unnecessary risks, it is not the sole responsibility of women to prevent rape. The perceptions we hold about the both the offenders and the victims significantly affect the reluctance of victims to go forward and the low conviction rates. While the above story about the ‘jeans alibi’ in Italy often has people shocked at the ‘reasoning’ used, similar, if less explicit, prejudices are apparent here too.

Men can also be victims of rape and it is no less difficult for them. Sometimes it is even harder for them to speak out due to the fear of others seeing them as weak or somehow less manly. So often they suffer in silence.

With other crimes, such as if someone if robbed, there is no question that they are in the right and have been wronged, contrarily rape victims are thrown into the grey area. What did they do to provoke this? Why weren’t they more careful? Are they just making this up?

For example: A woman was raped. She is 34. She works as a nurse in the hospital outside the centre of the city. She went out with some friends to a bar after work. She wore a short skirt and revealing clothing. She bumped into her ex at the bar. After some drinks they went to his place to talk about things. Once there he forced her down onto the couch and raped her. Afterwards she leaves and makes her way home.

Another: A woman was raped. She is 18. She is in Milan trying to get home to Israel. The travel agent says there are no flights but that he can drive her to Rome where there is a plane leaving tomorrow. She goes. On the way he stops, pulls her out, ties her hands and rapes her. Afterwards he tries to strangle her but does not succeed and leaves her there instead.

The second example is the case of Linor Abargil who was crowned Miss World 1998 a couple of months after the traumatising experience. She made her ordeal public and urged all victims to do the same. Both of the women in the above examples however, made decisions that some would say resulted in them being raped. But even if someone decides to drink, or to trust in the kindness of a stranger or a former lover, they are not responsible for their attack. Just as in other crimes the victim is, well, the victim. Their character or past should not be brought into question

It is not the case that men cannot control themselves when they see an ‘oppurtunity’ in a woman dressed suggestively, walking alone, or drunk. Rape is an act of power, not necessarily sexual gratification, and the rapists can be men or women of any age, social class, marital status or nationality. So can the victims. As most of the attackers are known to the victims and the location is a familiar ‘safe’ place the most important way we can combat rape is by speaking out. Breaking the taboos and the prejudices.

It is important to feel safe at university, and it bodes well that according to the survey students at Warwick do in general feel safe. But cases of rape or sexual assault are definitely not unheard of and many female students know of incidents. That victims feel safe and supported is key and while the University and the Union work towards spreading information we students must try to shed any preconceptions and listen with open minds to those who are brave enough to speak out. This is a harrowing crime that is pervasive across the world and the female and male victims need our support.

If you or someone close to you has been a victim of rape or sexual assault, you can either contact CRASAC at 0247627 7777 (24/7 anonymous hotline), email them at or visit their website []( for more information.


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