We Need Change: What The Last Taboo’s Report Tells Us

Jasmine Moody

The results are shocking to read, yet also unfortunately not particularly surprising. One thing is clear: more needs to be done.

(Image: Iwan Stone)

The Last Taboo’s latest survey highlights the amount of students from all sections of society that have been sexually assaulted and harassed. More needs to be done, and the University of York have to up their game to ensure all students are safe.

The Last Taboo have been demanding that the University of York needs to change their approach to dealing with sexual assault and harassment. They created a survey and the responses clearly highlight that the University are seriously lacking in support for victims of sexual violence. With the responses, change can now truly start to happen. I, and the student body are hopeful that the University will change and better their approach for the sake of their students.

The results from the surveys are shocking to read, yet also unfortunately not particularly surprising. Sexual harassment and assault is all too common in our society, especially for young adults like ourselves. According to the Office for National Statistics, students are more likely to be a victim of sexual assault, at 6.4% compared to other adults in other occupations.

Speaking out about it has become much less taboo than is used to be, with movements such as Me Too, the 97% statistic, and the recent case of Sarah Everand. Now, more than ever, victims of sexual assault have stepped forward to talk about their experiences and are fighting for change in our society. I am overcome with compassion for those speaking out, as I know that change will happen to protect victims and to ensure that sexual harassment and assault will, one day, be diminished.

However, speaking up is still difficult for much of the population. Some take it as an opportunity to victim blame, further belittling them. I have seen far too many social media posts “joking” about wanting to contribute to making 97% 100%. I have seen far too many posts blaming women for walking alone at night and not being able to fight back. This is why these findings are so important as they not only validate victims’ experiences but will contribute to change at the University.

York Vision have reported on The Last Taboo’s findings:

These findings are painful to read, but ever so important to contribute to the much needed change at the university.

The Last Taboo founders Kelly Balmer and Imogen Horrocks have told Vision: “We would really like YUSU to step up and take a significantly more public and active role in addressing sexual violence within the University of York.”

I certainly agree with their statement. More needs to be done by the YUSU, alongside the University of York regarding the horrific amount of sexual assault and violence happening to the University’s students. From reading the reports, more needs to be done to let students know about how to report sexual assaults. The lack of transparency that students are given from the University only undermines victims instead of helping them. Our University is supposed to be there for the students and this should include being there for victims.

Just to begin with, 71% of women and 80% of men do not know how to report sexual assault and harassment to the University and 64% of students who identify as working class are unaware of how to report too. This is clearly an issue that needs to be addressed. The Last Taboo have been able to draft up recommendations for the University, such as consent training and to improve the handling of sexual harassment and assault reports. I hope that these will be taken on whole heartedly by our university, especially considering the large percentage of students who are unaware how to file a report.

COVID-19 has made our day-to-day lives much harder. This includes the lives of victims of assault. Data has told us that domestic abuse cases have risen during lockdown. Students are also affected too, with 52% of incidences happening in on-campus accommodation and 30% in off-campus private accomodation. Many students feel unable to report assault cases because of lockdown, due to the worry of COVID regulations being broken or the perpetrator being a housemate.

Anyone can be the victim of sexual assault and harassment. It is unfortunately the case that the three groups, aside from women, who are most targeted are the most vulnerable in our society: the elderly, children and disabled people.

According to The Last Taboo, 74% of disabled responders stated that they had been sexually harassed, with no participants definitely saying that they had not been affected. 10% said that they would not feel comfortable reporting these cases, supporting The Last Taboo’s recommendation for improving the process for reporting of these incidences.

In addition, our University clearly need to do more for our LGBTQ+ students. 68% of the LGBTQ+ community state that they would not feel comfortable reporting an incident and 73% would not know how to carry out a report, supporting the need to improve the way reports are handled. Contributing to these high numbers is the harmful stereotype that the LGBTQ+ community are hyper sexual. This, of course, is not true yet is causing harm towards LGBTQ+ victims.

BAME students also feel uncomfortable reporting sexual harassment and assault to the university, with 70%. 65% of participants said that they have been sexually harassed. As a BAME student myself, these statistics are an eye opener about the treatment of non-white students. In my opinion, the fetishisation of BAME students contribute to the amount of sexual harassment they face.

Examples of fetishisation include labelling certain BAME members as docile and/or hyper sexual. Therefore, these harmful tropes seem to justify harassment towards the BAME community, from an attackers point of view. Being BAME should not justify the derogatory, sexual treatment that we are victims of. It is more than clear that more education needs to be undertaken about racial equality regarding harmful stereotypes.

The survey also took into account the experiences from male students. Sexual assault is commonly associated with women being the victims. However, male sexual assault and harassment cases are happening. One student told The Last Taboo: “It is a lot more difficult for men to talk about their experiences as society puts pressure on them to avoid emotion”. 

As a woman, I understand that speaking out about being a victim is harder for a man. Unfortunately, our society still allows harmful gender stereotypes about men; that men should “man up”. In addition, many male victims are mocked by both men and women. This behaviour is unacceptable and our University needs to be more supportive towards male victims. As a society, we need to start supporting male victims with open arms like the majority of society support female victims.

What The Last Taboo have carried out is phenomenal and is extremely important for us students. It is from these findings that recommendations can be made and therefore be adopted into practice by the University. It is clear that our University needs to be more transparent with students about how to report sexual assault and harassment. The responses also scream out the need for more support for victims of sexual assault and harassment. The University of York needs to listen to their students if change is to be implemented.

Thank you, The Last Taboo. I am sure change will happen and that students at our University will feel safer soon.

In response to the Last Taboo’s report, a spokesman from the University of York told York Vision:

“We welcome the report, which is being presented to our Student Life Committee next week for consideration.

“The University takes the issue of sexual violence and harassment extremely seriously, but it would be inappropriate to comment in detail until colleagues have had an opportunity to read the report in full and consider its findings.

“We have a number of measures in place already to support students, including our Sexual Violence Liaison Offers, who offer one-to-one practical and emotional support, and advice about internal and external support services.”