By Keziah Smith
Two Durham University students, Honor Douglas and Matilda Hubble, have launched a campaign against public sexual harassment (PSH) within Durham city.
The campaign, named ‘Our Durham Streets Now’, branches from the national grassroots organisation ‘Our Streets Now’, a movement with the objective of making PSH a criminal offence. The two students are pushing for a harassment-free education, and propose working with the University to make Durham’s streets and campus areas a safer place for all students.
Honor and Matilda launched ‘Our Durham Streets Now’ after a friend experienced sexual harassment on the streets of Durham. In fact, a survey carried out by ONS has revealed that 84% of students are subjected to some kind of harassment over the course of their university experience.
‘Our Durham Streets Now’ responded to these statistics by saying, “We’re going to be working hard with the University and around Durham to change this devastating reality.”
Matilda comments: “I’ve never felt 100% safe on my own, especially in somewhere I don’t know. It makes me scared, but it’s not something that’s going to stop me fighting against it.”
Although the group acknowledge that Durham Students’ Union (DSU) has set up ‘Pincident’, a platform where victims can anonymously report episodes of sexual harassment or abuse, Matilda fears that many students don’t know about this, especially first-years.
She further warns that some students don’t report incidents as PSH is not a criminal offence in its own right. When talking exclusively to Palatinate, the campaign group explains: “PSH is often shrugged off as a minor incident, or even as a ‘compliment’.
“However, each experience contributes to a perception of sexual violence, which can affect people for years to come. The safety and wellbeing of our students is our first priority.
“In Durham, PSH is a perennial problem, and recent reporting on Durham’s sexist culture has highlighted the fact that this problem is still endemic at our university and will continue to be so unless we increase awareness and demand both institutional
and cultural change.”
‘Our Durham Streets Now’ also proposes working with authorities and transport providers to reduce occurrences of PSH, and are pushing to appoint a full-time sexual assault and harassment advisor at Durham. The University has already appointed a permanent investigator with experience in sexual misconduct cases.
Professor Graham Towl, Associate Pro-Vice-Chancellor (Colleges and Student Experience), told Palatinate: “The safety and wellbeing of our students is our first priority, both on campus and in the city, and we utterly condemn sexual violence, misconduct and harassment.
“We would really welcome seeing further details of this survey so we can, together with Durham Students’ Union and partners in Durham City, fully consider the concerns identified.”
Image: Mark Norton