When I started at the University of Warwick in 2019, it was in the wake of the ‘group chat’ rape scandal and questions were being asked about how universities dealt with sexual misconduct on campus. Like the majority of students, I knew that sexual violence was an issue — 62% of students and graduates have experienced it at UK universities — but naively assumed that Warwick would be quick to deal with future perpetrators, given the national press attention they’d just dealt with. Or, selfishly, my friends and I would be lucky enough to avoid any potential creeps. Now, after spending four years at this university, I know that neither of these is possible.
It is considered normal for women and nonbinary people to feel unsafe
Rape culture is everywhere you look at Warwick. That isn’t to say that people condone rape, as the majority of people are against sexual misconduct and assault, but that the culture on campus has resulted in violence and abuse becoming normalised. This can range from the objectification of women — I overheard a very sobering conversation in Tesco where a group of male students talked about ‘getting’ women at the Copper Rooms as if it was a fight for toys — to the lack of consequences for students who are involved in misconduct. Students are encouraged to dress up as ‘sexy’ schoolchildren to go clubbing and forced into student bars, seminars, and societies with people that our female friends have warned us to stay away from. We attend a university where it is considered normal for women and nonbinary people to feel unsafe, (if you don’t know anyone who’s been assaulted, you’re part of a lucky minority), and that’s unacceptable.
In previous years, I’ve seen social media posts about society presidents who have assaulted other students and left them with red and purple bruises that shocked me — and without losing their position on exec. More than once, I’ve heard about people who have committed sexual misconduct and then continued to work in SU outlets. I’ve even had messages to warn me that people I’ve worked with have an unsavoury history because they’ve worried for my safety. But it wasn’t until I came across my ex-housemate, who (sober) had previously tried to assault my (drunk) friend, working on campus that I understood how bad things were: despite being reported for assault and harassment, it didn’t prevent him from being hired by the university. As cliché as it sounds, you don’t realise how bad rape culture on campus is until you see it first-hand.
Although Warwick has the Report and Support system, most people who’ve been through it can agree that it doesn’t work, and even more don’t feel like they can safely report people. Revolt Sexual Assault found that only 2% of students who experienced sexual violence both felt able to report it to their university and were satisfied with the reporting process. The prevalence of rape culture at university means that perpetrators of sexual violence or abuse are almost never brought to justice. Also, people either don’t believe victims or make excuses for perpetrators. All of these factors make it less likely for people to seek support, especially since it’s an open secret that the reporting system doesn’t actually result in perpetrators being held accountable.
There are still plenty of rapists walking around Warwick campus
I’m not saying that Warwick is the only university with a rape culture problem: more than 80 UK universities were named in testimonies of sexual assault on the Everyone’s Invited website, with 12 of those universities being mentioned over 30 times. Most universities have widespread rape cultures, which means that sexual harassment and assault are very common, and most female students agree that this is now part of the university experience. Georgina Calvert-Lee, head of UK practice at the law firm McAllister Olivarius who represented two victims of the Warwick University rape chat scandal, said it might take a rape case to go to the high court to accelerate change in university cultures. But, although the problem doesn’t only exist at Warwick, the university does have a responsibility to tackle it.
It may have been four years since the group chat scandal brought national news coverage to Warwick, but that doesn’t mean that much has changed during that time. While victims may be more inclined to warn other students through social media, rather than formally report people, there are still plenty of rapists walking around Warwick campus. One of the most common misconceptions is to imagine these people as anonymous boogiemen when they’re actually our acquaintances and even friends. We need to challenge rape culture on university campuses across the UK and the best place to start is at home: we need to challenge Warwick.