Content warning: this blog post discusses violence against women.
Recent events and media reporting have highlighted the persistent experiences of violence, humiliation and intimidation towards women which have been part of our society for many years. I wanted to use this blog to reflect on what this means for the University community, and how we can ensure that all of the environments, communities, spaces and technologies that are part of the University are a safe space for women.
As the illustrations shown here demonstrate, sadly, violence and threat against women is something that we have become used to in our everyday lives. These are all real examples shared by staff and students on social media, unacceptable things that women here, in this city and this university have experienced. I remember being taught at school how to carry a key between my knuckles as I walked home, and am still careful about how I choose a route when walking or travelling alone, thinking about the lighting or busyness of a space before making a decision about how I should make my journey. Sadly, we still too often teach girls and women how not to be attacked or abused and still too often it is women’s lives which are limited and women’s worlds are made smaller.
As we increasingly communicate in an online space we are also seeing the impact of threatening behaviour online tools and through social media.
The University of Nottingham, and Nottingham as a city, has a strong history of working in partnership to highlight and address the problem of violence against women. Building on research conducted by teams from the University and Nottingham Trent University, Nottingham Women’s Centre, Nottingham Citizens and Nottinghamshire Police began work that led to Nottingham being the first area to classify misogyny as a hate crime in 2016. It was recently announced that this practice will be rolled out across all police forces.
So, what should we all do to help, and to bring about change?
Firstly, we can all work together to change our culture, our expectations and our behaviours. We can all play our part in this, through building our understanding of the different things that combine to create feelings of intimidation and threat; through preventing threatening situations from occurring by thinking carefully about avoiding the need to place people in dangerous settings or situations; and, in the sad situations where violent or dangerous incidents do occur, seeing, believing and hearing survivors, reporting events, supporting victims, and holding perpetrators to account. Men have a particular role to play here, through calling out behaviour in situations where they see women have been made uncomfortable, challenging harmful perceptions of masculinity, and speaking about domestic violence.
Secondly, we can increase awareness of behaviours which are unacceptable, and the impacts that they can have. As with many topics we consider in equality, diversity and inclusion, there may be important issues to discuss and debate, and there may be no clear answers. As a University community we are well placed to support these discussions in the interests of all of us learning more. The Campus Life team and Students’ Union have already done excellent work in bringing together materials which are delivered as part of the annual induction programme for all students, and I will be working with them and meeting with groups representing those affected by violence targeting women in the coming weeks to ensure that we continue to improve and embed this training to ensure that it has as much impact as possible. We must also talk about the very real threat of domestic abuse, where most violence against women occurs, and the fullest definition of that word ‘violence’, which includes control, coercion, manipulation, belittling, and any other behaviours which aim to remove a women’s rights and dignity.
Thirdly, when incidents do occur, it is the responsibility of all of us to respond. A helpful phrase to remember is “see, report, support”. We can help through supporting victims, or reporting instances ourselves. The University and Students’ Union provide a range of different routes for support and help, including a dedicated Sexual Violence Liaison service. We also recognise the need to build trust in our harassment reporting systems and response, and in the summer term will be introducing a new ‘Report and Support’ system to improve our approach.
Professor Sarah Sharples
Pro-Vice Chancellor for Equality, Diversity & Inclusion and People
23 March 2021