By Daniel Fox
A recent survey carried out by Palatinate asked students whether they had ever felt uncomfortable on a night out in Durham.
126 (57%) respondents out of 220 (43%) answered that they had felt uncomfortable.
The survey then asked questions on five areas: drinking, attire, unwanted contact and venue employees.
One student, explaining why they often felt uncomfortable, said: “I only go out to seem sociable, in truth I hate it, it’s awful in every conceivable way.
“I wish there were other ways of making friends who wouldn’t automatically assume that you are a loser for not enjoying nights out,” they continued.
Another said: “The unwanted sexual advances and the peer pressure that often accompanies going out – when you feel forced to drink, dress or act a certain way – makes nights out quite uncomfortable.
“I’ve often backed out of plans or left a night out early because of how uncomfortable I have felt, but then that means I often have to walk home alone, so you can never really win.”
An overwhelming majority of students said that they had felt pressured to drink whilst at Durham, with 83% (183 out of 221) of respondents saying that they had at least occasionally felt pressured to drink.
38% of respondents said that they always or often felt pressured to drink.
One respondent said that “the general consensus is that it is impossible to have fun on a night out without getting drunk.”
Another said: “It’s pressure from friends, that I can’t have a good time without alcohol. They’ve never given me the change to even give it a go.”
Recently, there has been an increasing focus on LAD culture, particularly in University sports teams, with one team being banned from a local restaurant last week and another being banned from College bars.
Many respondents pointed the finger at welcome drinks as making them particularly uncomfortable, saying that they had felt pressured to drink far more than they wanted to.
“Since joining a DU sports team this year, I have felt the pressure to drink, especially when we attend away matches as we are expected to bring alcohol with us,” said one student.
Another respondent, who identified themselves as female, said that she didn’t feel there was any “harsh” pressure on her but that the experience of men was “different…because of the motivation to feel masculine and so, conform to LAD culture.”
Suicide remains the UK’s single biggest cause of death among men under the age of 45, with last year having the second highest recorded number of male suicides in fifteen years (according to CALM).
Some have looked to a culture that encourages men to compete with each other in terms of bravado and dissuades them from being open about their feelings, to explain this increase.
Some responses, however, were more positive.
“There is social pressure but I do not mind as I enjoy drinking on nights out. I also know that if I chose not to drink my friends would not be judgemental,” said one student.
“It is usually meant in a friendly way and, generally, refusing is an option that is accepted by most of my friends,” agreed another.
The survey also revealed that 71% (157 out of 222) of respondents had experienced unwanted contact on a night out in Durham.
This figure rose to 84% for non male-identifying respondents, with 12% saying that they always experienced unwanted contact.
The written responses were equally damning.
One student said that “being slapped on the bum or groped in a club seems to be part of being a girl.”
Another agreed, saying: “I don’t think I’ve had a single night out in Durham where I haven’t had my bottom or breasts groped.”
Two students commented that the regularity of the contact had made it appear like a normal occurrence.
“The first few times it shocked me and I would turn around in absolute disgust…but now it’s almost become normalised or a standard – yet annoying – occurrence.”
“Every girl I know accepts it as normal because that’s just the way boys are apparently. If I say anything, I’m made to feel like I’m making a fuss.”
It wasn’t just unwanted contact that made students feel uncomfortable; one student said that she often felt uncomfortable on a night out, as “guys [often] take no as a challenge and assume your cleavage is an invite to be hit on repeatedly.”
Many respondents voiced similar experiences.
Palatinate reported last month, that students planned to hold the University to account on their policy on sexual violence.
Stephen Burrell, a PhD student in the Durham Centre for Research into Violence and Abuse, in conversation with Palatinate, called on all students to recognise the issue and act to change it.
“I believe that men in the Durham community have to recognise that this is something which is going on around us, and that we each have a part to play in stopping it.
“As men we need to look hard at ourselves and think about how our behaviour might be impacting upon other people, in ways that mean they do not feel welcome, comfortable, safe, or equal.
“We have to have the courage to stand up and say that we are going to refuse to take part in a culture which excuses sexual violence and enables it to take place, and that we refuse to stay silent when those around us are behaving in ways that contribute to that culture.”
Palatinate also asked whether students felt wary about walking home alone after a night out in Durham.
66% (146 out of 222) of respondents said that they had at least occasionally felt nervous walking home alone.
This figure was again higher for non male-identifying students, with 74% saying that they had felt wary.
The written responses were mixed with some students commenting that they felt Durham was relatively safe compared to their home towns.
One student said: “I consider Durham a very safe city in which to live and have never actually witnessed anything undesirable whilst walking home late at night.”
However, other responses were more concerning:
“It is very rare that I feel completely safe walking home alone after a night out.
“When it is busy in town it feels safe, but as you get closer to less packed areas like the Viaduct it can start to feel rather unsettling.
“If an area of town feels particularly deserted and I don’t feel safe I will often call a friend so that I feel less worried about walking home alone.”
Two respondents again pointed out that the issue had almost become normal, for many of their gender.
“As a girl, it is just something I have been aware of as long as I can remember,” said one student.
Another agreed, saying: “I think as a girl you’re taught to always be on your guard.”
A male-identifying student was in agreement.
“As a male, it is rare for me to be the subject of inappropriate or unwanted attention, but there have been many times when the actions of other males in clubs towards my female friends has made me feel very uncomfortable, if not disgusted.
“In most cases the men do stop if asked, but the point is that they should not have to be asked to stop.
“They should never engage in such behaviour at all without being clearly invited to do so.”
On a more encouraging note, 81% (177 out of 219) of respondents said that they had never been made to feel uncomfortable by a venue employee.
The written responses were mostly positive.
One student said that they found that “most of the bouncers are lovely” and that “they don’t deserve the abuse they get off certain individuals [as] they are just doing their job.”
However, one student, who identified as female, had concerns with the bouncers of one particular venue, explaining how she had been made to feel uncomfortable on two separate occasions.
The respondent said that she was dressed up in fancy dress in a way which could have been viewed as provocative and that “the bouncers thought it was okay to joke to each other about what I was wearing, occasionally asking me questions that I had made clear I wasn’t comfortable with.”
On another occasion, at the same venue, she said that “the bouncers watched me feel uncomfortable in the face of these creepy older guys [as they made unwanted advances] and did nothing to offer their assistance.”
However, she did make clear that she had “never experienced issues with bouncers in any other venue in Durham.”
Another respondent said that after informing three security guards of a man who had been sexually harassing her and her friends, their reaction had been poor.
“I do not feel like the guards took this seriously… [they] seemed to treat the experience light-heartedly, further upsetting myself and the other young girls who had been affected by this.”
However, a significant number of respondents praised the response that they had received from venue employees, particularly bouncers, after they had reported incidents of sexual harassment.
In a comment issued to Palatinate, the University said: “We take matters of student safety very seriously as attested to in our partnership work with the Students’ Union, Durham County Council and the police.
“The University uses Induction Week as an opportunity to give advice to new students about staying safe.
“The University continues to emphasise three key safety messages to students.
“[These are:] if you choose to drink alcohol, please do so responsibly; do not walk along the river banks in the dark at night; and, stay with your friends and do not walk home alone.
“Ultimately we are each responsible for our own personal safety.”
Along with Stephen Burrell’s call for students to take a stand against a culture that leaves many feeling uncomfortable and worse, two respondents issued their own demands.
One called on the Students’ Union and colleges to tackle a harmful culture of drinking.
“The fact that you need to drink to have a good time was sort of drilled into me in first year – this needs to change, with more proactive campaigns by the Students’ Union and by colleges,” they said.
Another had this to say: “If she is drunk – leave her alone.”
Photograph: Pexels – Creative Commons