Harvey Weinstein: a symptom of a sick societyWikimedia Commons: Georges Biard

At the moment, there appears to be an ever-increasing number of allegations of sexual abuse and harassment against well-known people. We are rightly horrified by the crimes allegedly committed by famous and influential figures, such as Harvey Weinstein and Kevin Spacey, yet, tragically, I find these allegations somewhat unsurprising and instead view them to be a sad reflection of a widespread societal problem of sexual abuse and harassment.

“Predatory behaviour is often construed as simply being ‘keen’ or ‘persistent’”

In response to these accusations, it is imperative that we do not consider them to be independent one-off events. The prevalence of these crimes is becoming clearer and clearer in the aftermath of the Weinstein allegations as more victims are gaining the confidence to speak out about their alleged abusers, whether they be from Hollywood or the House of Commons. After all, it was not long ago that Donald Trump was elected president of the USA, bringing a string of sexual assault allegations into the White House with him. Due to this, in order to do justice to those who have been victimised in these alleged crimes, we must offer more than sympathy and address the root of the problem.

However, it is not just Hollywood stars or villainous politicians that are guilty of these kinds of crimes. Sadly, they are far more common than some may expect, as revealed by a report carried out by the Ministry of Justice, Office of National Statistics and Home Office in 2013. They found that nearly half a million adults are sexually assaulted in England and Wales each year with one in five women between the ages of 16-59 experiencing some form of sexual violence since they were 16. The horrific frequency of sexual crimes demonstrates that they are far more ingrained into our society than many may think. The questions that arise from these findings are why these behaviours are so common and how we can work to tackle them.

Whilst it is, of course, unrealistic to provide one cause for the prevalence of sexual abuse and harassment, I do believe that one of the key problems is the normalisation of predatory and inappropriate sexual behaviour. One example of this is how predatory behaviour is often construed as simply being ‘keen’ or ‘persistent’. Many times, I have witnessed and experienced people refusing to take no for an answer, being convinced in their own entitlement that someone might change their mind. However, relying on someone to change their mind demonstrates a total lack of respect for the other person and their ability to give and withdraw consent over matters concerning their own body.

This lack of respect is also visible through the active shaming of those who do not consent to sexual activity. This is particularly clear in the accusation of ‘leading someone on’. Such a concept blames and shames a person for refusing to give or for withdrawing consent. Why is this kind of manipulation so commonly accepted? From my experience, these tactics can make people feel as though they have little choice in the matter as on multiple occasions, I have heard female friends say that it was easier to get with someone than not to. In light of this kind of commonplace predatory sexual behaviour, the need for education concerning consent is particularly obvious in order to create a safer and more respectful society.


Mountain View

It's time to cull the Cambridge "sharks"

In my view, it is also really important that we take predatory and inappropriate behaviour seriously instead of allowing it to be dismissed as a joke. I think that this is particularly relevant to the notion of ‘sharking’, a term that I had never come across until coming to Cambridge. Whilst there is, of course, nothing wrong with relationships between older students and freshers, ‘sharking’ does literally imply predation. Regardless of whether it is construed as a joke or not, deliberately preying on younger students to receive sexual favours isn’t actually that funny at all. It’s not only patronising and demeaning to freshers but risks creating an uncomfortable and hostile environment. Whilst I am by no means suggesting that ‘sharking’ inevitably leads to harassment or abuse, when creepy and predatory behaviour is brushed aside as banter, it is hardly surprising that many victims of sexual crimes do not want to come forward.

Clearly, the problem of sexual harassment and assault runs much deeper than the exposure of the alleged crimes of the rich and famous. That being said, incidents like those concerning Weinstein and Spacey attract much public and media attention, giving an opportunity to discuss the tragic prevalence of these kinds of crimes and hopefully work towards a solution

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