From Professor Richard Reece | Deputy Vice-Chancellor Education and Student Experience
Usually when we put together updates for students and staff, we are thinking of the broad community at Kent that we are all part of. However, with today being the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women, I want to prompt discussion between one group in particular – the men who study, live and work across our campuses.
There is no doubting the extra poignance of today after a year which has seen such hurt, anger and public outcry following high profile and appalling events such as the murders of Sarah Everard and Sabina Nessa. More recently, the reported rise in drink spiking has brought into sharp focus a deep-seated culture of violence, and potential violence, towards women that plays out both nationally and on our university campuses.
If we are completely honest, the way these acts of violence are discussed all too often places the onus on women to protect themselves – don’t dress in a particular way; don’t drink too much; don’t leave your drink unattended; don’t accept a drink from someone you don’t know. It is especially painful to hear testimony from women about how systemic violence can force them to think along these lines when simply trying to enjoy a night out. Far from getting to the heart of the problem, these approaches detract from it and place the blame at the wrong door – putting expectations on the victims of crime rather than the perpetrators.
While some may find this challenging, the real message here is much more straightforward. Men need to stop being violent towards women. Harassment is a crime. This is our problem and we need to own it. It is a simple fact that the overwhelming majority of violent acts against women are perpetrated by men. Trying to brush past this as the behaviour of a minority of us misses the point – just because you are not personally violent does not give you the right to ignore, or worse tacitly condone, the experiences of so many women in our community.
As men, we all need to ask ourselves the hard questions. Am I prepared to challenge others when they are acting inappropriately? Do I call out supposed jokes or comments that over-step the mark? Am I clear that I do not have a right to women’s attention or their bodies? At times this may not be easy, or it may not make you popular – however, it is incumbent on us to both change and encourage change wherever we can.
Both the University and Kent Union will continue to do all we can to keep the women of our community safe, including launching our new Consent. Get it. Full Stop campaign this week. We will continue to promote specialist support for those who are victims/survivors of violence, and we’ve more work to do with our partners to ensure all of our venues both are and feel as secure as possible. But that alone is not enough. Men must own violence against women as our issue to address, not theirs. It is only when we do this that things will genuinely improve to the benefit of all.
If you have been affected by sexual misconduct, assault or harassment, through our Report + Support tool we hope to empower you to record details of any incidents and to ensure you can gain access to support from a specialist adviser when you need it. You can also discuss your options for reporting an incident formally or you can choose to remain anonymous – you are in control and we are here to support you.