Photo: Bull & Bear

The Truth about Sexual Assault in St Andrews

Sophia Rosenblatt shares her, and others’, personal experiences with the night in St Andrews.

It was hard to stomach the original article.

Genuinely, it was hard to get through it without feeling like I had wrap my arms around my body, as I realised St Andrews was not actually a place that would fight for my rights. Everything from the use of “comparable” to describe women’s sexual assault around the world, to “grossly inappropriate” to describe a peaceful march, to the big, glaring “anonymous” that graced the article’s heading, so the author could state their strong, controversial opinion, but neatly skip away from any backlash that would inevitably ensue. Left discarded in their wake is fear.

Reclaim the Night was my first glimpse at what St Andrews has the potential to be.

We marched, huddled in the cold, with signs rubbing red paint off on our jackets, chanting slogans as we did. Maybe it was a little awkward at first. It’s not an easy thing to walk the streets of St Andrews, a place so secure in its quiet and tradition, and speak your beliefs unabashedly.

Sometimes the chants just seemed to echo back at us, but sure as hell am I glad I had the chance to say them out loud.

Photo: Feminist Society
Photo: Feminist Society

Because sexual assault at St Andrews is not something that can be scoffed at with a sarcastic “Really?” It’s not something that can be invalidated because women in Riyadh have it worse (although the idea of sexual assault being ranked on a scale is itself terrifying), and we should count ourselves lucky that we’re only assaulted “sometimes.”  It’s not something that can be dismissed because men in tuxedo jackets and swim trunks don’t fit stereotypes of a rapist.

Little known fact: rapists don’t come in one form, one shape, one colour. They don’t all haunt “rape alley” behind the Union (although there’s a reason we call it that). What’s really terrifying about sexual assault is that you don’t know where it can come from or when it can happen. And those girls that have a “fear of violence and sexual abuse on a daily basis”? They’re not so far away. They’re the women marching in Reclaim the Night. They’re women who didn’t march at all. They don’t even have to just be women. They’re all of us, everyday, period.

One of the marchers told me: “Because [my rape] happened in St Andrews, it meant a lot to have it here. Last year, what happened to me, he wasn’t a student, but he was a local.”

“We were hanging out in my bedroom, but we had hung out so many times before that I felt okay around him,” she said, recounting her story. “We were doing stuff before and I told him I didn’t want to anymore, so we stopped, and then I fell asleep. And then I woke up with him back on top of me… I was naked again, and then… he was sticking it in, and I still have an open case about it, no one’s telling me anything.”

Not only have St. Andrews police failed to help her (she had called them again the morning that I talked to her, and by the evening, they had still not returned her call), but student services did not pass this information through to her other counsellors, making her repeat the story again.

Photo: Headstuff
Photo: Headstuff

But sexual assault isn’t just rape.

Another girl told me how the guys behind her in the tightly packed line outside the Vic, “started putting their arms around my waist and started groping my breasts.”

A female photographer, who frequently attends events in St Andrews, said that just last Friday, a group of guys grabbed her and started “motorboating” her after she took their picture, and left her with her “shirt [] almost off and her bra [] out.” Another female photographer talked about how someone “put his hands underneath my shirt and lifted his hands all the way up my back and was like, ‘Hey can you take my photo?'”

Two years ago, postgrad Pasquale Galianni was jailed for his attempted rape of a woman in between the Sports Centre and David Russell apartments, as well as for an assault of another woman earlier on in the year. A Kirkcaldy man was arrested for groping 15 year-old Madras girls in the street. Between 2012-2015, 28 reports of sexual misconduct have been filed with the University, and between 2009-13 there were 22.

And what’s really terrifying? Most sexual assault that women experience isn’t reported, or talked about. It’s just what expected, without it having to be a “wild night out.”

Reclaim the Night was founded on the idea that it “gives women a voice and a chance to reclaim the streets at night on a safe and empowering event.” It’s a movement that’s travelled from Germany to the UK to the US, all focused on the same issue of ending gender-based violence. The idea that having a march in St Andrews is somehow out of “context” is not only entirely false, but grossly inappropriate.

“It’s rather naïve to think that sexual violence isn’t a problem in St Andrews,” said Jo Boon, President of the Feminist Society and organiser of the 2016 march, when commenting on the original article, “I was raped here around 18 months ago and, since speaking about it, have had a frightening number of women confide similar experiences. Equally, [the march] is not a new event. It was run by Kate O’Sullivan last year, and it was also run for many years before that.”

To have validity as a critic, you cannot base an argument on assumptions and vague statements. You cannot brush off a political movement without putting in the effort to understand it, or understand what It represents to the people who participate in it. Substantial criticism comes from knowledge. And the most disappointing part of this article was the wilful resistance to that type of merit.

The night is not yet ours and articles like the original one just serve to make that even more obvious. I wish we could run away from this, as the author believes we have. I wish there was a way where we could run to the edge of Scotland, and somehow not still be affected by it. But it’s funny, because no matter how far away we try to run, inequality finds a way to step on our heels.

So we march.

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