Emily Allison asks why more is not done to ensure students’ safety and tackle rape culture at the root.
Bleary-eyed and mentally drained, you stumble from the library exit after a late night study session at the peak of exam season. Immediately, you’re plunged into darkness. You have no idea who could be lurking in the shadows. Your journey home has got off to an uneasy beginning. As you head down the library hill, you feel for your keys in your pocket – you know, just in case you have to fend anyone off. University Avenue is completely deserted and the dim orange glow from the streetlights is far from reassuring. And it’s just going to get worse when you start to head down Kelvin Way.
But why are you so scared? Recent events have stirred intense fear amongst the students at the university and in wider Glasgow. It was impossible not to experience a surge of anxiety when Karen Buckley’s horrific story was broadcast less than a year ago. Just two months ago, a young woman was raped on her way to Central Station in the City Centre. These aren’t rare, one-off events. And the reality is, women aren’t the only victims – men are at risk too. When we hear about these incidents happening so close to us, we remember that we are also open to attack. Unless we take definitive action to protect ourselves, we’re told.
As students, we are very much vulnerable. Whether we have come from a sheltered sleepy village, or are international students adjusting to Glasgow culture, criminals are clearly attuned to this vulnerability, making us easy targets for theft and assault, sexual or not. Glasgow was once named “murder capital of Europe” and its propensity for violent crime is no secret. Then why is it that we still live in fear of becoming victims? What is being done to help us feel more secure?
At the beginning of the month, the Tab addressed the issue of the lack of CCTV in several target areas around Glasgow, leaving people open to unmonitored attack. In a world where it seems that we’re constantly under the unwanted watchful eye of ‘Big Brother’, we are lacking it where we need it the most. Unfortunately, CCTV doesn’t provide a safe bubble to prevent attackers from carrying out their offence.
In the same article, The Tab made the misguided suggestion that it is everyone’s duty to care for women walking home alone at night by essentially adopting their vigilante alter-ego and guiding them to their destination, blind drunk or not. I can’t imagine any anxious woman finding comfort in a sloshed student stumbling across the road demanding she allow them to take her home. If anything, the woman is going to end up having to guide them home. Whilst the underlying sentiment that we pull together as a community and look out for one another is obviously a respectable goal, rather than following the Tab’s advice, we should pull together as a community to prevent attackers from attacking in the first place. This, however, isn’t an easy task.
Students at the University of Michigan have recently developed an app called ‘Companion’. With the tagline, ‘Never Walk Home Alone’, the app allows your friends to digitally walk you home. Your chosen recipients are linked a map of your route and there are options for you to alert them or the police if you feel in danger. It allows users to register where they feel unsafe, ultimately helping to identify areas where people feel the least at ease. Whilst the app is a fantastic concept which definitely helps the hundreds of thousands of users who have downloaded it to feel more secure when they’re out alone, it’s hard not to feel like it’s just another layer of pressure on the potential victim to keep themselves safe, rather than addressing why they feel so unsafe.
Nevertheless, we do see campaigns like Rape Crisis Scotland’s ‘Reclaim the Night’ annual march in Glasgow, demonstrating a united front against sexual violence. Additionally, the ‘This Is Not An Invitation To Rape Me’ campaign clearly outlines what constitutes consent. These campaigns are integral to tackling the safety issue, but where is their persistent presence beyond posters dotted around bar toilets and occasional late-night TV adverts?
We need a change in our approach to dealing with attack prevention. Although there is evidently the presence of campaigns tackling abusive conduct head-on, it seems that it just can’t keep pace with the mass of information and tools available to potential victims to keep themselves safe. And this is worrying, because no protective measure can be said to be 100% fool-proof. Moreover, this piles more responsibility onto the victims to keep themselves shielded. If you become a victim, is the attack your fault because you failed to ensure your own safety? It shouldn’t be.
A two-tailed tactic is crucial; as well as continuing to inform people on how to stay safe, we need a greater drive to target the mentality of potential attackers. Students are famed for their passion to fight for good causes, so why is there not already a highly visible, constant, campus-wide lobby for this?