The Saint survey: sexism in St Andrews

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Photo: Benoît-Grogan Avignon and Lightbox Creative
Photo: Benoît-Grogan Avignon and Lightbox Creative
Photo: Benoît-Grogan Avignon and Lightbox Creative

“‘Maybe you shouldn’t act like such a f****** slut”, said X after I rejected his attempts to kiss me and put his hand up my skirt. But I thought all I’d done was let him walk me back home after a night out drinking with friends.”

Experiences like “L’”s may not happen every day in St Andrews. However, over a third of people who completed The Saint’s anonymous online poll said they knew of incidents of sexual harassment here, with just over 20% of the 326 respondents saying they themselves had experienced it.

A few contributors described their ordeals. These ranged from hearing sex-related comments which made them feel uncomfortable, being groped, and feeling pressurised or being forced into making physical contact.

Director of Representation Amanda Litherland said: “I think sexual harassment is more of a problem in St Andrews than many people appreciate.

“We should remember that sexual harassment does not just mean unwelcome sexual advances but any unwanted behaviour, such as comments of a sexual nature which could make someone feel uncomfortable or intimidated.

“Thankfully, we don’t have a particularly bad record of incidents but they do happen more often than people realise.”

“L” said: “I’m the only one of my friends here who has experienced harassment. I was too embarrassed to report it to anyone.”

A number of the anonymous accounts of harassment in the The Saint’s survey mentioned that alcohol was involved.

“Any level of intoxication should not be taken as consent for sexual advances or offensive comments,” stated Litherland, whose work with Student Services on alcohol awareness includes tackling attitudes towards harassment.

Student opinion appears to vary on what to tolerate. Just over half of the poll’s respondents said sexual banter is acceptable. Anonymous comments said that this depended on the recipient’s feelings, some saying that banter is acceptable as long as the recipient is comfortable with it.

A few students said that women who dress “provocatively” may have to expect sexual propositions.

“L” recalled: “A female friend implied the incident involving ‘X’ was partly my fault. She said I shouldn’t have worn a short dress.”

Zahra Haji, a mathematics and Arabic student, disagrees. “No one can, or should, stop women from dressing how they choose. A woman’s outfit cannot be used as an excuse to harass her.”

Meanwhile, Bains said the University’s systems for dealing with harassment for both staff and students “are robust,” with clearer publicity than ever before to help people find support.

The University encourages victims of harassment to seek support from Student Services, the Director of Representation, the Students’ Association Advocate and Nightline.

For more analysis of the survey’s results, click here.

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