Content note: this article contains discussion of sexual assault.

‘Loud and Clear’ are a group that aim to address problems of sexual assault and harassment, both by improving the University’s structures and policies in place and addressing cultural issues.

The group started out in Clare College, with a few female students discussing their experiences of misogyny in college. We were only freshers and this was Lent term, but we came to the realisation that almost all of us had already experienced some form of harassment or assault during our short time in Cambridge, and had concerningly heard of many incidents from other female friends. Discussions turned to meetings, turned to action plans.

One of our first steps was conducting an anonymous survey within Clare college into incidents of sexual harassment and assault - for the purposes of our survey, this included any unwanted and unconsensual behaviour that was of a sexual nature. Perhaps we had just been unlucky with our experiences, we thought, and the problem wasn’t as big as we feared. In an environment like Cambridge, where generally students seem switched on and politically engaged, how much of this problematic behaviour could really be going on?

“Even one reported incident would have been unacceptable but, at last count, we had 64”

Even one reported incident would have been unacceptable but, at last count, we had 64 reported incidents. I remember when the email containing the survey was first sent out, watching in horror as the numbers climbed steadily. Clare isn’t a particularly big college and this number was, in our view, a sign that immense change was needed.

Worse, perhaps, was the fact that only two people had reported their experiences formally, and the reasons people gave for not reporting were deeply upsetting. The majority of victims said that ‘I didn’t think it was serious enough to warrant a complaint’, which was alarming since many of the behaviours reported constituted criminal offences. Several others said they ‘felt partially to blame for what happened’ and ‘could not prove the behaviour took place’.

In other colleges, sister groups have also created a survey with similar results; this is not just an issue in a singular college, but a problem across the university.

“It is never the victim’s fault and no one will blame you”

We would like to publicly address some of these commonly held mindsets and reassure victims. Any instance of harassment or assault is unacceptable. It is never the victim’s fault and no one will blame you. You will be believed. Even if you have no ‘evidence’ of what happened to you, your words count as evidence and will be given weight. In cases of sexual assault, the burden of proof is shifted slightly, from ‘beyond reasonable doubt’ to ‘on the balance of probability’.

And there is support available. The university has a specific Sexual Assault and Harassment Advisor, Amy Thompson, who is an expert in pastorally supporting victims and in guiding them through the reporting process. She has huge amounts of experience, not just in talking victim-survivors through what happened to them, but also in accompanying people to police stations and court hearings. More information is available here.

“There is support available”

Loud and Clear have been in talks with OSCCA (the Office of Student Conduct, Complaints, and Appeals) to discuss reforming the collegiate procedure of reporting, making it easier and more in line with the wider university procedure, so that switching between the two is simple. The recent Trinity Hall open letter highlights the fact that colleges are not always best placed to help victims, in terms of resources and in terms of conflicts of interest. Hopefully, our changes would mean that even if a student wanted to initiate reporting in college, they could switch to the university procedure without much extra effort if they felt it was necessary. We are also hoping that a form will be introduced for reporting at a collegiate level. The current option, writing an email to the Senior Tutor, leaves victims without any guidance on what information to disclose, and is a very daunting idea for many students.

Even with these changes, there needs to be a cultural change to truly help victims. Anyone can help. Bystander intervention can help prevent assaults in the first place. Normalising asking for consent in a vocal manner can remove any danger of ‘grey areas’ and can ensure people feel safe and respected in sexual encounters. Supporting a friend following a disclosure of assault, such as by assuring them that they are believed and they are not to blame, can vastly help victims cope in the aftermath of trauma. Many respondents to our survey indicated they were ‘worried there would be repercussions in my social circle’; we need to ensure we live in a culture where no one feels this way, and victims are not worried they will be judged for speaking about their experiences.

The group name ‘Loud and Clear’ has multiple meanings: consent must be given loud and clear, voices of victims must be allowed to be loud and clear, and a zero-tolerance policy on any sexual harassment/assault must be loud and clear. We are campaigning both for changes to procedure, with our talks with OSCCA, and changes to culture, with plans for more comprehensive Fresher’s Week consent talks and a continued social media presence. We hope that both the student body and the university itself will help us with our aims to make Cambridge a better, safer place for everyone.


Mountain View

Coming to terms with sexual assault

If you are affected by any of the issues raised in this article, the following organisations provide support and resources: