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TRIGGER WARNING: contains discussions of rape and sexual violence

In the wake of the MeToo movement, as a society we have finally had some long overdue conversations about rape culture. Rape culture is a societal environment that trivializes sexual violence, and protects the perpetrators of it. Unfortunately, rape culture is prevalent on university campuses across the UK, including at King’s College London (KCL).

As university students flock back to KCL, eager to socialize with their friends after a long lockdown, the threat of sexual violence increases. Students are isolated from their families, and freshers are thrown into an environment where they may feel they have nobody to turn to if they become victims of sexual violence. Additionally, students may feel their experiences aren’t serious enough to warrant anger or reporting. The normalization of sexual harassment, and the fact that it is often treated as a joke, contributes to this problem. 

What is the effect of rape culture? Research conducted by Revolt Sexual Assault and The Student Room shows that 62% of students have experienced sexual violence at university, including 70% of women (1). Sexual violence is an umbrella term that encompasses sexual harassment, sexual coercion, sexual assault, sexual abuse, and rape. This is a concerning statistic, especially when we learn that only 1 in 10 students reported their experiences to the police or their university (2). The ineffectiveness of the police in handling sexual violence cases is well documented, but unfortunately, so is the ineffectiveness of universities responses. 

In June of this year, the King’s Tab conducted a survey of students about their experiences of sexual violence at KCL. A disappointing 88% of students admitted that they did not know how to report sexual misconduct to the university (3). 

According to the King’s website FAQs, reporting sexual misconduct at King’s has multiple stages (4). It is possible to report an incident anonymously, but this will not constitute a formal complaint. Anonymous reports are for King’s to monitor the prevalence of incidents and assess how successful their initiatives are.

The first stage of a formal complaint is informal reporting, which involves talking about the incident to the perpetrator directly in the hopes of resolving the issue. Whilst King’s does acknowledge this may not be possible, the emphasis is on informal reporting before formal reporting. However, this likely discourages students from reporting sexual misconduct because having contact with the perpetrator may be dangerous, humiliating, or harmful.

The second stage is a formal complaint to KCL. Stage Two Complaints are dealt with through the Student Conduct and Appeals Office. The university aims to complete an investigation and reach a solution within three weeks. Unfortunately, a formal complaint cannot be made anonymously. Not only must a student’s full name be on the complaint, but the person they are reporting is made aware of the allegation and the identity of the accuser. For students reporting members of faculty, staff members or peers, all of whom they may frequently come into contact with, this policy is undeniably harmful. Although King’s promises that no report will negatively impact the academic standing of a student, this cannot be guaranteed. This assurance fails to take into account that a student’s academic standing may be naturally impacted by reporting. Not wanting to come into contact with someone they have reported may result in a student skipping class or seeking to switch their professor or personal tutor. 

King’s does have an initiative called It Stops Here, which focuses on the prevention of bullying, harassment, sexual misconduct and hate crime, as well as working to improve the university’s response to such incidents (5). As a collaboration between the university and the KCL Student Union (KCLSU), this initiative aims to build an environment where all students, staff and community members feel supported, safe and welcome, regardless of who they are. The initiative has three aims: respect, report, and support. The training and compilation of resources for students and the development of the Anonymous Reporting Tool all mark a step in the right direction, but it is arguably not sufficient to combat rape culture on campus.

There’s no denying that rape culture exists at our university. The King’s Tab reported that 30% of students have received unwanted sexual attention at KCLSU venues (6). In a formal investigation, the National Union of Students Women’s Campaign found that 1 in 7 female students have experienced sexual or physical assault on campus at university (7). But rape culture is more than sexual violence. It’s the silencing of its survivors. The official King’s official complaints system unfortunately perpetuates a culture in which students do not feel safe to formally report their experiences. We as students have a responsibility to dismantle rape culture, but King’s College London also has a huge role to play in protecting survivors of sexual violence and punishing its perpetrators.    

 

Sources:

  1. https://revoltsexualassault.com/research/

  2. https://revoltsexualassault.com/research/

  3. https://thetab.com/uk/kings/2020/06/26/investigation-nearly-a-third-of-kings-students-experience-unwanted-sexual-attention-in-su-venues-29785

  4. https://www.kcl.ac.uk/hr/diversity/dignity-at-kings/student-guidance/faqs

  5. https://www.kcl.ac.uk/hr/diversity/dignity-at-kings/it-stops-here/itstopshere

  6. https://thetab.com/uk/kings/2020/06/26/investigation-nearly-a-third-of-kings-students-experience-unwanted-sexual-attention-in-su-venues-29785

  7. https://www.nus.org.uk/en/news/1-in-7-women-students-is-a-victim-of-sexual-assault-or-violence1/#:~:text=1%20in%207%20women%20students%20is%20a%20victim%20of%20sexual%20assault%20or%20violence,-Friday%2019%20March&text=1%20in%207%20women%20students%20(14%25)%20has%20been%20the,survey%20conducted%20by%20NUS%20today.

 

I'm Khanya, a first year student studying Law. I am passionate about politics, social justice issues, and literature.
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