By Emma Pinckard
Durham has been the subject of several national newspaper reports, regarding extreme levels of sexual violence and misconduct at the University.
The Times has reported that there is a “conspiracy of silence over rape” in Durham, and students who were interviewed “claimed that a cocktail of privilege and alcohol has created a conspiracy of silence at the university, with assaults on female students hushed up to protect the alleged attackers’ reputations.”
The article continued to report that students “told how the majority of alleged incidents had been fuelled by drinking.”
Further, it drew attention to the fact that in November, “police figures showed that 463 sex attacks had been reported by female university students at 70 leading institutions in the past two years” and that “two of the country’s most well regarded universities – Durham and Oxford – had the largest number of recorded rape and sex assault allegations, with 36 incidents at each.”
The report also quoted Professor Graham Towl, the former chairman of the Sexual Violence Task Force (SVTF), who said: “We have been very active with our work in this area,” but continued, “I think there is a problem in society and I know from my former role there’s significant under-reporting and that’s the general problem.”
Emphasising this issue, the report quotes a student, who explains that “if I was sexually assaulted I would always think twice about reporting it,” and “everyone knows everyone in Durham and you can’t get away from people.”
In addition to this, The Sun reported that “a shocking 48 per cent of female undergrads at Durham claim to have been attacked” and that “in the past 12 months, four students have been to court for sexual assault, with one jailed earlier this month.”
The article also drew attention to an “extreme drinking culture fuelled by cheap booze at Northern prices,” claiming that “drinking games, often with an element of sexual aggression, are an essential element of most sports clubs and social societies,” including those named “Fat Girl Rodeo” and “Pull a Pig.”
Durham students commented in the article that “consent is a very blurred concept at Durham,” and “men make too much physical contact in the clubs, grabbing at the women. It’s not surprising any more.”
Professor Stuart Corbridge, Vice-Chancellor, and Alice Dee, Durham Students’ Union President, addressed this issue in an email which was sent to all students last week.
They commented: “As a University community, we value respect and diversity in a supportive and open culture. Durham University is clear that sexual violence and misconduct will not be tolerated in any form.
“We recognise this is a matter of widespread concern, within the University and beyond. We are writing to assure you that the University, along with your colleges, Students’ Union, Experience Durham, staff and external partners, is continuing to take steps to tackle this issue.
“Our goal is to create a safe learning and living environment where individuals are respected and feel confident that their concerns will be listened to and appropriate action taken.
“We recognise there is more to do in this area and we think it’s important to have an open conversation.”
They continued to give information about “meetings in Durham and Stockton next week to discuss sexual violence and misconduct in our University.”
The meetings, held on Monday 6th February and Thursday 9th February, were to give students the opportunity to discuss the issue of sexual violence and misconduct at Durham with members of the University senior management team and Students’ Union representatives.
It was also outlined that separate meetings will be held for all staff “to make sure we give all of our community the chance to engage.”
They highlighted that students may email the Sexual Violence and Misconduct Operations Group, with any “questions or suggestions” at firstname.lastname@example.org.
This comes after the University’s Sexual Violence Task Force (SVTF) produced a guide, outlining how sexual violence may be confronted at University, for staff and other student leaders.
The University outlined its intention to “have specialist policies and procedures in place for investigating incidents of sexual violence,” and “enact culture change through bystander intervention and consent workshops for all students.”
An online DUO module entitled “Consent Matters” has been made available to all students this week.
Professor Corbridge highlighted that an online training module on sexual consent will begin this term.
Photograph: Durham University