Content note: the following article contains discussion of rape

The 'Breaking the Silence' campaign has made great progress in engaging with the issue of sexual violence, but more can still be done Flickr - Fibonacci Blue

This term, I’ve talked about what it means to be raped, and my experience of the continuing effect it’s had on my life. Things are continuing to look up – the rape is now over six months ago, and I am feeling better than ever. I haven’t had a nightmare in a long time, and the rape has stopped feeling like such a big, all-consuming thing which defines me as a person.

I’m feeling optimistic personally, and I want to expand that optimism to society at large. Let’s talk about what we can do to continue helping matters for survivors of sexual violence. I’d love to have some magic solution to make rapists disappear, but unfortunately a more cynical pragmatism is needed.

"We know there’s a major problem with sexual harassment and assault in Hollywood"

Last term, Cambridge launched its ‘Breaking the Silence’ campaign to tackle sexual harassment and assault on campus. A similar rallying call has resounded across global media with #MeToo and the ‘Time’s Up’ campaign in Hollywood. The primary goal of these movements has (rightly) been to begin the dialogue on what has long been a hidden and shameful subject, as well as to publically expose to institutions and, well, men, the scale of the problem.

But that silence has indeed now been broken. We know there’s a major problem with sexual harassment and assault in Hollywood; we know that, horrifyingly, almost every single one of our female friends has a #MeToo story. The ground is set for fixing the issue which has been identified – but this is where it gets harder. The work now is less flashy, less quantifiable, less immediately satisfying.

While Cambridge’s ‘Breaking the Silence’ campaign is admirable in providing centralised information and support (the appointment of a new Sexual Assault and Harassment Advisor is particularly important), there is still a long way for the University to come. The disciplinary procedure for dealing with sexual misconduct is in urgent need of updating, and it’s a sad state of affairs that students are having to put pressure on the University to implement change: I am hopefully that the Senate House discussion will yield positive results. Likewise, consent workshops should not have to be a student-led initiative: more University involvement would improve uniformity across colleges, as well as the quality and attendance of sessions offered. Content warnings are a simple measure but can make a huge difference to the everyday lives of survivors of sexual violence.

"Mammoth steps are needed to create a legal system which does justice to victims of sexual violence"

On a national level, mammoth steps are needed to create a legal system which does justice to victims of sexual violence. Like an estimated 85%  of survivors, I chose not  to report the crime I experienced, and I wonder how much that decision – for me and others – was weighted by a lack of faith in the legal system. This year, the acquittal of the rugby players charged with rape and the announcement of plans to ‘urgently’ review rape cases have given a very public platform to what seems to be an alarming trend of regression in legal trust of victims. The default assumption should be to believe those who make the difficult decision to come forward.

Of course, change does not occur only at an institutional level. As a public, we have spoken up with #MeToo and #IBelieveHer – and now it is our responsibility to follow through on our words. The scale of the problem is terrifyingly huge, and I continue to be disgusted by the number of people who, upon hearing my story, will offer a similar tale of their own. But there are some small steps we can take to improve matters.

Practice affirmative consent. It’s easy for things to be ambiguous in the context of a drunk hook-up, but if we all make a proactive effort to ask for consent we can change a culture of grey areas of consent and ‘bad’ sex.


Mountain View

‘Three months later and I’m still hurting – but also angry’

Zero tolerance policy. Rape makes sense in a culture where catcalling and groping are acceptable. These aren’t separate problems but the same sliding scale of disrespect; calling people out and refusing to tolerate problematic behaviour wherever possible will lead to progress.

Education, education, education. The public has a responsibility to educate itself and engage with the issue – if you’re reading this, you’re doing a good job. Better understanding the issue makes society as a whole better equipped to tackle the problem and to support its victims, for instance in being mindful of their language and casual references to rape.

Supporting some of the fantastic charities helping survivors. Charities like Rape Crisis UK do really important work, and they need funding to continue providing and extending their services.

And, finally, we need to continue breaking the silence – to continue opening up the dialogue on these difficult subjects when it’s no longer on trend, and listening to what the victims have to say.