Grudgebridge has become the focal point of a campaign against sexual assaultLouis Ashworth

Cambridge’s previously-beloved antithesis to Crushbridge has been transformed into a platform for social change. Grudgebridge has become a forum where those individual voices that are so often rendered silent on the topic of sexual harassment, assault and abuse are being heard. This is particularly prescient, and largely in reaction to, the leaked video footage posted to the Grudgebridge Facebook page earlier this week of Trinity Hall’s all-male drinking society, the Crescents, joking about inclusivity. The video has sparked debate among students about the types of damaging attitudes drinking societies foster.

But the page has become a reflection of many of the wider issues surrounding endemic bullying, sexual assault and abuse in society. For starters, claims by some commenting that the stories shared are fabricated because there is no name behind them are eerily similar to the fact that without hard evidence many survivors who report sexual abuse more widely are labelled as liars by the media and in courts of law. False accusations of rape popularly perceived as much more common than they statistically are. Such comparisons are depressingly poignant.

When so many women are reluctant to come forward with their experiences, how can we condemn a platform that is allowing, in any form, for these stories to be shared and expressed?

Those contributing to the forum the platform has provided both reflect and are part of the feminist movements like #MeToo that we have seen in recent months that have spoken out against the gross cases of sexual misconduct behind the public facade of major industries.

Some say that Grudgebridge is not an appropriate avenue for constructive change. While it is true that posting online is not creating change in any obviously or explicitly measurable way, social media can be a powerful tool when it comes to revealing the horrific injustices that still blight our communities, and Cambridge is no different. This has been seen nationally and internationally this year, notably by those including actress Rose McGowan who have accused movie producer Harvey Weinstein of rape. Social media, as unhelpful and draining as it may be, offers a platform for those who cannot even get a foothold on the rungs of traditional debates. It offers a voice to the voiceless.

Grudgebridge is exposing that which many would like us to continue to ignore. Scrolling down Facebook while alone in our rooms or sitting in the library, we are confronted with the raw, disturbing truth of what so many of us let go of when we are with friends or hear about drinking society ‘antics’. So long as victims remain silent, they remain isolated from one another and allow these pernicious attitudes and behaviour to go unchallenged.

Is there even a substantive alternative to Grudgebridge? The ‘Breaking the Silence’ campaign has made us all aware of the overwhelming reality that so few survivors report or openly speak out about their experience, due to all sorts of reasons. This is especially true when they feel that the institutions and society around them will not support their experience; that their story will not be listened to. I do not wish to discourage any survivor or victim from making a formal complaint, but when so many are reluctant to come forward with their experiences, how can we condemn a platform that is allowing, in any form, for these stories to be shared and expressed?

Let’s not act as if this is something we did not already know. We all know what goes on in drinking societies

Social movements, of which Grudgebridge is now one, can in many ways be more powerful than formal individual complaints. The posts shared on Grudgebridge do more than simply consider individual cases and settle them privately. The power of this movement in Cambridge is the unifying effect it has had, the discussion it has provoked in college cafeterias and bars, and the way it has linked gendered, racial and classist experiences of harassment, violence and assault.

From cat-calling to abuse and sexual violence, Grudgebridge has helped us all to bring together those  instances that we have always been made to feel are individual. But survivors are not alone in their experiences. The events that we write off because they are a ‘one-off’ or we were ‘over-reacting’ in the case of mild harassment, to the fear or shame many victims feel in coming forth after being sexually assaulted, are part of the same story.

Even in 2018, even within the Cambridge ‘bubble’ (a painfully misleading term), the existence and relevance of the issues and divides that have been discussed by feminist thinkers on the issues of harassment, assault and abuse for years are re-asserted again and again. By linking the mildest forms of harassment to the most extreme experiences of abuse and violence in one place, we see that the root of the problem is cultural. A culture that involves gendered subordination, belittlement and abuse.


Mountain View

Grudgebridge must be more constructive in its crusade against drinking societies

In Cambridge, that picture is epitomised in the cultures created by drinking societies. They have in practice become a concentrated source of many of the damaging attitudes hard-wired into society, attitudes that intimately affect the lives of students, from playful ‘banter’ to the much more serious incidents alleged against the many societies and their members. You can argue all you like that it is the actions of individuals that are at fault, and that collective bodies cannot be held accountable, but it is a way of averting our gaze from the problems at hand. Yes, individuals are responsible for their actions, but by only paying attention to this aspect of abuse we risk ignoring the environments that foster and legitimate the kinds of behaviour Grudgebridge has exposed – messily, and not always accurately, but boldly and rightly.

But let’s not act as if this is something we did not already know. We all know what goes on in drinking societies. From Freshers’ Week, students are told of these elusive and exclusive societies. The tendency to perform strange and outdated traditions when you are at a university like Cambridge is a convenient way to mask, conceal and ignore the toxic and unacceptable behaviour that exists, is bred and encouraged within such societies. These environments must be tackled head on, by both students and the University. The momentum building on Grudgebridge may well act as a catalyst for such action.

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