It is an undeniable fact that many women across the globe face physical and sexual violence on a daily basis. Indeed, the World Health Organisation estimates that a third of women worldwide have experienced such violence, mostly at the hands of an intimate partner. “But in St Andrews? Really?” your article asks sceptically. Yes, really.
You see, violence against women stems from a core belief that women are somehow inferior to and less valuable than men. Unfortunately, this ideology and the lad culture that perpetuates it is by no means absent from our supposedly “small, safe and liberal town.” Instead, it seems to me to be rather prevalent in a way that I did not expect. Before arriving here in September, I had no idea that rape jokes could be an accepted part of lunchtime conversation, or that I would genuinely hear someone describe another person to me as a “duck-faced, good for nothing tramp” over mulled wine. The question as to whether the drunken behaviour of the “cretins” you refer to do indeed constitute a threat of violence towards women is far from “absurd,” and there is a real danger in dismissing it as such.
The idea that violence does not exist in St Andrews, in a country where, according to the British Crime Survey, there are an estimated 47,000 rapes every year, around 40,000 attempted rapes and over 300,000 sexual assaults, is not only naïve, but also contributes to a sense of ignorance surrounding this issue. Furthermore, incidences of violence are often underreported, sometimes due to the culture of shame surrounding this issue, and sometimes for the very reason that people are unaware of what is wrong. Assault and harassment are never the fault of the victim, and “one too many Pablos” is never an excuse.
Standing up to the violence that millions of women face worldwide does not mean ignoring it at home, but by far the opposite. How are we even going to begin to tackle the global problems of violence and injustice against women if we do not first address issues of inequality where we are? Thankfully, you are right in saying at the start of your article that St Andrews is far from sleepy. Between the cobbled streets of this seaside town are students with brains and hearts longing to challenge injustice, amongst them perhaps a future generation of leaders.
Ban Ki-moon, the UN Secretary-General, urges us to “break the silence. When you witness violence against women and girls, do not sit back. Act.” Perhaps in reclaiming the night, the people of St Andrews are starting to break this silence, making space for a dialogue concerning the equal rights of everyone to feel safe wherever they are.