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No One Should Have to Worry About Sexual Harassment on a Night Out

No One Should Have to Worry about Sexual Harassment on a Night Out main image

Have you ever altered your outfit because it might lead to unwanted attention on your night out? Or been happily dancing along to your favorite song, only to feel someone grinding themselves up against you without your permission? You’re not alone. Sadly, incidents like this are all too common on nights out at university, and this needs to change.  

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not a killjoy – I understand lots of people like going out specifically for a casual hook up, and that’s fine. Also, accidents happen - I’m not going to expect the highest standard of personal space in a busy nightclub.

The problem lies in trying to flirt with people by touching them – it’s not attractive, it’s not ‘just a bit of fun’, and it’s not going to make them want to go home with you. You never have the right to touch another person without their consent, and everyone should be able to go on a night out and enjoy themselves without any unwanted attention making them uncomfortable and possibly ruining their night.

I think ‘lad culture’ plays a significant role in this – there are stories like a rugby club at one university playing a drinking game called ‘It’s not rape if…’ while at another, a student was spotted wearing a t-shirt with ‘casual rape’ printed on the back on a night out. What possessed these students to think these things were in any way okay? It should go without saying, but rape is one of those things you just do not joke about. Again, I’m not trying to say that people shouldn’t have fun, but leave rape out of your ‘lad’ banter. Sometimes, it seems that the lads who egg each other on about the attempt to ‘pull a bird’ are actually inadvertently dehumanizing the women they’re talking about – they’ve become like a thing to conquest, rather than a person. (And, as a side note, I really don’t like the use of ‘birds’ to refer to women.)

Shocking statistics

A recent report from sexual health charity Brook found that more than half of students surveyed said they’d experienced unwanted sexual behaviors such as inappropriate touching, explicit messages, and cat-calling. However, only 15 percent of these students identified those behaviors as sexual harassment, showing a worrying lack of understanding of what constitutes sexual harassment.

As you might expect, although sexual harassment undoubtedly happens to men as well, it’s more prevalent with women, with 49 percent saying they’d been touched inappropriately, in contrast to just four percent of men. Another report, from alcohol charity Drinkaware, found that sexual harassment tops the list as the most common incident for women on nights out.

All of this to me shows that so many of us are accepting sexual harassment on university nights out as just a normal part of going out, which it’s not. You wouldn’t grope someone anywhere else, so why does it all change when you’re in the sweaty, dark and crowded confusion of a night club? Why do I need to actually turn around and say ‘no thanks’ and/or go and dance elsewhere in the room before you get the message? Being drunk is not an excuse – as emphasized with Drinkaware’s “You Wouldn’t Sober, You Shouldn’t Drunk” campaign, if you wouldn’t do something sober, you certainly shouldn’t do it drunk.

And even more shockingly, only a quarter of students who are raped go on to report it, while only half of those surveyed understood that it’s not possible to give consent if you’re drunk. It seems as though there’s a gray area in which many people might be confused about where you draw the line – at what point is that person too drunk to consent? To me I think it’s a matter of using your common sense. If someone can barely walk in a straight line, is slurring their speech and probably won’t remember the next day, it’s much wiser to make sure they get home safely and give them a glass of water, rather than try to have sex with them in their inebriated state.

What can be done about it?

Of course, there’s much to be done to stop sexual harassment on nights out when it happens – for instance, nightclub staff should be trained to take a zero-tolerance approach to it when they see it, rather than ignoring it and letting it continue. And if you see someone who seems to be being harassed, ask if they’re okay, rather than confronting the person responsible.

I also think prevention is key. We need to educate people on positive sexual behaviors from a young age, so they’re less likely to behave like this in the first place. As Brook’s chief executive, Helen Marshall, states: “We are failing to equip and empower young people to navigate their sexual lives and relationships."

An encouraging step in this is the recent announcement that from September this year primary and secondary pupils in the UK will learn about relationships, consent, staying safe online and mental health – all things that should certainly be taught from a young age.

We also need to break down the cultural barriers that keep people from reporting sexual assault or harassment when it does happen to them, which in turn means that the perpetrators aren’t reprimanded for their actions, and can go on thinking it’s acceptable. It particularly saddens me that so many women stay silent after they’ve been raped, perhaps through shame (even though they have nothing to be ashamed of) or fear that they won’t be believed.

Universities also have a duty of care, and need to play a part in preventing sexual harassment and assault by sending a clear message that this sort of behavior won’t be tolerated. To help students to feel safer on nights out at the student union, more universities could take part in the ‘Ask for Angela’ initiative, as used at institutions such as Warwick and Sheffield, in which anyone who’s feeling uncomfortable can discreetly ask for help by asking for Angela at the bar.

Another good venture is the Good Night Out campaign, which provides training programs to pubs, bars and clubs to help staff understand, respond to and prevent sexual harassment and assault in their venues – the University of Bath’s Student Union is among those signed up for this. And with the #MeToo campaign taking off over the last year, we’re already seeing an increased awareness and discussion about sexual harassment and assault – but there’s still much to be done.

What’s your opinion on this topic? Leave your thoughts in the comments below.

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Sabrina Collier's profile image
Written by Sabrina Collier
The former Assistant Editor of TopUniversities.com, Sabrina wrote and edited articles to guide students from around the world on a wide range of topics. She has a bachelor's degree in English Literature and Creative Writing from Aberystwyth University and grew up in Staffordshire, UK. 

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1 Comment

Sexual harassment is just as prevalent with men as it is with women. The men don't just whine about it.