A website at the heart of the recent private school sexual harassment scandal has now turned its attentions to universities. Everyone’s Invited, founded to allow young people to share their testimonies of a normalised culture of sexual assault, harassment and molestation, has reported 41 accounts pertaining to Durham University.
As a woman who studies here, this isn’t surprising. Durham reeks of entitlement. In a normal year, there is a feeling that nights out are owned by the red trouser brigade, patron saints of rich male entitlement. With admissions from private schools increasing for the second year in a row, privately educated students are significantly overrepresented at Durham. The University is interwoven with elitism and public schools – the latter of which have been embroiled in the rape culture scandal over the past few months. It’s not surprising that some boys who go to schools where potentially criminal behaviours are normalised come to university and do the same.
Even before I got an offer to come to Durham, I had some idea about what to expect. The Sun and The Daily Mail had recently named Durham as the UK university with, proportional to student body, the highest reported cases of sexual assault in the country.
There’s a history of sexual violence at Durham. It’s an issue which seems to crop up annually – with Durham named one of the worst offending universities for sexual assault in 2016, 2017, 2018 and now 2021. As has been said as every iteration of the same news story, journalists have exposed Durham for having a “vile culture of sexual violence” and “a conspiracy of silence”.
In 2017, a senior University professor told Buzzfeed that these accounts showed students were trusting the University more and were therefore coming forward and reporting their accounts. Although this might explain the high number of cases reported to the University, it does little to elucidate the number of testimonials on Everyone’s Invited, where everything is anonymous.
Even though Durham recently introduced a second permanent investigator of misconduct, the process of reporting a sexual offence remains a mystery to many. No mention of sexual assault rates is made to prospective students, nor do the University widely advertise what they are doing to fix the problem. 13 out of 14 students nationally choose not to report cases.
However, movements are being made. In February, the University revealed that two students had been expelled and suspended respectively for breaches of the Sexual Misconduct and Violence Policy.
Durham is a very insular university city, far removed from other universities named on Everyone’s Invited. University of Leeds, which ranks fourth highest on the list, has a myriad of clubs, pubs and bars compared to Durham’s handful. Durham has relatively fewer venues, with many events staged inside colleges, overseen by Principals and college staff.
Comparatively it should feel safer, being far smaller and having a lower crime rate. But the quaint cobbled streets do hide something dark. Wrapped in the guise of tradition, sexual assault and harassment can be legitimised as initiations, college bingo, or some kind of Durham student ritual. Our image as a historic university town, shrouded in Enid Blyton-esque lore, has prevented us from changing. We are becoming archaically dangerous, and if we don’t change soon, we are sure to become a thing of the past as prospective students choose to enrol in safer institutions.
Durham has to change from the inside out. Untangling Durham from its laddish culture of sexual harassment is going to be a tough job; in some ways it is written into the foundations of the University. But with consistent action, change can happen. Hopefully, in the wake of Everyone’s Invited, the ongoing private school scandal and the murder of Sarah Everard, it is already on its way.
Photograph by Thomas Tomlinson