By Becky Wilson
Van Mildert College has become the first JCR to pass a motion condemning sexual violence and harassment at the University.
The motion, which was proposed by Van Mildert’s Executive Committee on 23rd November, cites a NUS report which found that one in seven female students experience physical assault during their time at university.
The motion states: “Sexual violence is prevalent within society, and our university is no exception. According to the NUS report ‘Hidden Marks’, one in seven female students experience physical assault during their time at university. Research from Mankind suggests that around 3 in 20 males are affected by sexual violence.”
Amongst other points, the document says that JCR socials have a responsibility not to perpetuate myths about sexual violence, and commits to holding discussions on consent during Fresher’s Week.
It goes on to state that “there is an institutionalised victim blaming culture which is apparent in most university responses to a publicly acknowledged incident of sexual violence.”
Ben Hodgkiss, Welfare Officer at Van Mildert, told Palatinate:
“I think as an exec it’s something we wanted to address; possibly because being ‘in the thick of it’ you see a different side of student life through welfare.”
In the motion, the Executive Committee points out that the college pastoral system is possibly not the best framework to provide support to victims, as the perpetrator is statistically likely to be known to the victim.
Fraser Burt, JCR President of Van Mildert, told Palatinate:
“Given the disparity between statistics from crisis centres and the police, it’s clear the majority of sexual violence goes unreported.
“While the collegiate pastoral system is one of Durham’s greatest strengths, structurally it may have the potential to discourage victims of sexual violence from accessing it. This is why we’ve stated the need for Durham University to have one, dedicated provision in this instance, possibly managed through the Student Union.”
The motion follows the growing success of the campaign ‘It Happens Here Durham’, which is working with the Students’ Union to update the University’s policy on sexual violence.
Other colleges are following with similar actions to condemn sexual violence and harassment at Durham.
Sophie Lauren Cranfield, a third year at Collingwood College, told Palatinate that a motion similar to Van Mildert’s is currently being drafted.
She confirmed: “We will be proposing something similar in the first JCR meeting of next term.”
Meanwhile, members of St. Mary’s College JCR, MCR and SCR met to draft a statement on issues such as equality, diversity and sexual consent on Monday.
The college’s Principal, Simon Hackett, told Palatinate:
“St Mary’s has a long history. Our founding background as an all-women’s College was based upon the principles of equality of opportunity and social justice. As we approach 10 years since becoming a mixed College, this anniversary provides a timely opportunity to reassess what these founding principles now mean for us in 2014.
“Whilst widely recognised and agreed that our values are important in shaping our College ethos, and subsequently how we operate as a College community, we realised that these values had not been brought together in one place, hence the production of the statement.
“We, as St Mary’s College, believe that a written values statement formed through input from both our students and staff alike, will provide an important reference point for all our members. It will help reaffirm our College sense of identity and strengthen our College community.”
Sophi O’Connor, Welfare Officer at Durham University Feminism Society, believes the motion passed by Van Mildert is a step in the right direction, commenting:
“Universities are supposed to be liberal bastions, but in my experience and the experience of most of the women I know, that simply isn’t true of Durham. It’s miles behind in terms of social change, and legislation tends to lag even further behind that.
“Recently, with all the negative media attention on Durham because of events like the St Cuthbert’s Rugby Club’s “It’s not rape if” game, there’s been a greater push for action and I believe we’re seeing that reflected across the University.
“I’m pretty impressed with the Van Mildert motion. The acknowledgement of victim blaming culture is excellent.
“The [University’s policy on sexual harassment] is narrow and ill-enforced, so college taking steps to support them is vitally important.
“The resolutions are practical and achievable goals. Obviously we have miles to go. However, this is a good start and I’m pleased to see it.”
Photograph: Naomi Ellis