By George Wright
More than one in seven female KU students claims to have been physically forced to engage in a sexual act, according to a River investigation.
The survey also showed that nearly half of female students have felt pressurised into engaging in a sexual act.
Yvonne Traynor, from the Surrey Rape and Sexual Abuse Centre in Croydon, said our results were of no surprise to her. She said: “It’s a difficult environment university, it’s the first time when people are out and they’ve left home, they feel the freedom and so I think it’s quite hard for some men to understand that there are boundaries.”
Nor was Ms Traynor surprised at our revelation that over half of those who had been forced or pressurised into engaging in a sexual act said the perpetrator had been a boyfriend.
She said: “You’re more likely to be attacked by someone you know like a partner, ex-partner or family member than you are by a complete stranger. It’s only around eight per cent of attacks that occur by a stranger.”
The findings come a week after the Government launched an initiative to raise awareness about sexual violence within teenage relationships.
Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg recently spoke at a Rape Crisis centre in London, highlighting the dangers of sexual violence in young people’s relationships.
There has been a sharp rise in reported rapes in Kingston over recent years, with a 12 per cent rise year on year with 56 reported last year in comparison to 19 in 2008. Police have also issued warnings about unlicensed taxi drivers.
Our survey received 202 replies and was filled in online and by students at Penrhyn Road campus. Ninety respondents said they had felt pressurised into engaging in a sexual act, while 30 said they had been forced to engage in a sexual act. Of these, 49 said it was committed by a boyfriend – either current or past.
Dianne Whitfield, who works with victims of sexual violence through the Rape Crisis support organisation, echoed the reaction of Yvonne Traynor.
“The myth about a man hiding in a bush that the woman doesn’t know is completely wrong,” she said. “They are far more likely to be raped by somebody they know. Rape is an act of violence and not about sex. It’s about power and control rather than through any sexual motivation.”
Young women at risk
Despite emphasising that rape is something that can occur to anyone regardless of age, class, culture or sexuality, Ms Whitfield said that young women are most at risk.
“What we do know is that there are particularly vulnerable age groups and that does include the younger girl age group. At my centre we see a peak between 16 to 24-year-olds,” she said.
Lucy Williams, who has been re-elected as SU vice-president in the Student Life position, has vowed to raise awareness about the issue at the University.
“I want to launch a huge Rape Crisis campaign in order to support any person affected by sexual violence, particularly young female students who have moved to a new area for university, don’t necessarily know their drinking limits and may find themselves in dangerous situations,” she said.
Combating sexual violence
She plans to widen the campaign to involve the local community in combating sexual violence.
“It's something that we would definitely try to get local clubs and bars in on, so it reaches a community-wide level rather than just within the limits of KU.”
“I don't just want to focus on supporting those who have already been affected, either, but under the campaign, educate people about the dangers they might face and how to avoid them. As well as support, the campaign should be providing the knowledge to prevent situations such as these,” she said.
Emma Gardiner of London Nightline, a service dedicated to offering support to students, urged victims of sexual violence to use support services.
She said: “Whilst the statistics that reveal the unacceptably high proportion of students affected by sexual violence will not come as a surprise to those on the front line of student support, what does is the small fraction of those students coming forward to report such incidents.”
“You can talk to us about anything - big or small - in complete confidence. We won't judge you or tell you how to run your life, we'll simply listen to whatever is on your mind.”
One third-year KU student, was attacked when she got into an unlicensed taxi after a night out in Kingston during first year.
After hailing down a taxi with a friend after a night of heavy drinking, the driver pulled up outside of her halls before attacking her.
“The taxi man then got out of the driver’s seat and into the back with me; my friend had hopped out by now. I don't remember what actually happened because I was too drunk, but I do remember this taxi man’s face looming over me and pulling my top down.
“My friend also said that he pulled me towards him and tried to open my legs. So, unable to defend myself, my friend punched the taxi man from the other side of the car that he got in, yanked me out of the car and we ran back to halls,” she said.
Despite initially not being able to recall the incident when she woke up in the morning, Sarah was reminded by her friends.
“Some bits I remember, some I don't. But they told me once I was back inside halls that I was sobbing for ages. We all assumed it was an unlicensed taxi, I remember thinking before I got into the taxi; how do we know this is a real taxi?”
She suffered no major lasting effects from the incident but didn’t report it to the police.
“It would have made me have to live through it for more time than I would have been okay with,” she said.
This reaction is not uncommon, as little as one in 10 attacks are reported to the police.
Anyone affected by any of the issues raised in this report can contact Rape Crisis on 0808 802 9999 or Nightline on 0207 631 0101.