Unashamed: Durham Students Talk About Sexual Violence

By Holly Bancroft

One in three women are sexually assaulted or abused whilst at university.

Many of us recognise that more needs to be done about condemning sexual violence. Apart from Freps who get consent workshop training, very few of us are ever made to properly consider how to deal with acts of sexual violence and how to shut down behaviour that normalises it.

In Durham a group of Christian students have kick-started a campaign called Unashamed- aimed at creating discussion and awareness around these shocking statistics.

The campaign is a partnership between Just Love National and Restored, an international Christian alliance working to transform relationships and end violence against women.

Their motive comes from a belief that the Christian God is a God who cares deeply and passionately about the dignity and value of women.

The aim is that, through transforming Christian students at university, a wider discussion can be started in which sexual violence and its reality in Durham is actually talked about.

Palatinate talked to the two Durham reps for Unashamed Miriam Brittenden and Rachel Blyth to discuss the campaign and how it went.

There number one contact with the university is Clarissa Humphries who is the sexual violence rep? Commenting about contact with the DSU Rachel said, “What she does really requires student opinions and focus groups and how students feel about these issues.”

Her role was born out of the sexual violence taskforce from last year. It is great that the university provide support for those affected by sexual violence and a channel through which the student voice can be heard.

The growing recognition of issues surrounding sexual violence has grown following the new sexual violence report from UUK Taskforce which looked at Durham as a showcase. The “Changing the Culture” report makes a number of recommendations for universities across the country which focus significantly on methods of prevention and effective response.

Rachel said that, following this report, and knowing the help that the University can provide through Clarissa, “We can join in with the work that the university is doing and support her as a group of Durham students. The point of the campaign was to start a conversation and we want that conversation to keep going.”

So what was the Unashamed campaign?

The campaign was a social media focused discussion on sexual violence. It culminated in a discussion event where people shared their experiences and ideas about how the topic of sexual violence could become less taboo.

The event had a focus on small group discussion. A campaign that started targeting language but is aimed to make major changes to how students act.

The trailer video for Unashamed was seen nearly 12,000 times, 6,000 people liked the online content and 43,000 people were reached by the campaign.

Rachel and Miriam aim to organise follow up events to keep the conversation going. Rachel said to Palatinate, “If it started from changing a percentage of our generation, the ripples of this change will go further and it will be more tangible on a cultural level. A mind-set will be created where it won’t be ok to jokily legitimise sexual violence”

The whole initiative came about from the particular passion of one of the officers of Just Love, the blanket Christian organisation under which the Unashamed campaign falls.

Rachel, when talking to Palatinate, said “Although the events were focussed on getting Christian students to seriously engage with the topic of sexual violence, we really hope its something that the university takes seriously. We hope we will be able to affect wider culture by the way we model a positive way of living that doesn’t normalise unhelpful language.”

Miriam said “Along with other student groups we want to work collaboratively with whats already in place to tackle sexual violence. Our aim is to create a university wide, all inclusive, ever increasing dialogue.”

The discussion event resulted in a consideration of practical ways students in Durham can change a negligent culture. Rachel said, when speaking to Palatinate,

“The whole of our culture needs to change its not just Christians and Christianity, the ways people intervene will affect their friendship groups and then affect the whole culture around us. Sexist jokes aren’t trivial and the fact that rape culture has become so normalised is something we need to tackle. We need people to commit to think about when and why those sexist jokes come about and then what to do when reacting to them.”

The next step for them is to work with the university to implement the Istanbul convention which was designing to tackle issues of domestic and sexual violence.

The main action point which Unashamed want to see happen from the convention is the implementation of a central database kept by the government which would help accurately diagnose the problem of sexual violence.

The UK government don’t currently have a central record, but instead depend on localised statistics which then get replicated for country-wide predictions. Having a central database would help properly diagnose the problem which may be a lot bigger than current models show.

This is the wider goal which those at Unashamed want to partner with the university on. The campaign fits well into the changes the university has been making to discuss its policy and practice in regards to issues of sexual violence.

This has involved the set up of the Sexual Violence Task Force, the bystander training for Freps and the introduction of consent workshops.

Follow the Unashamed page on Facebook for details on the campaign.

Photograph Unashamed, JustLove Oxford

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