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Rape debate controversy at NUCA event

The Nottingham University Conservative Association (NUCA) has attracted controversy due to a motion about sexual assault, debated on Friday during their ‘Port and Policy’ event at Lincoln Hall Library.

The motion entitled, ‘This house believes that women who dress provocatively are more likely to become victims of sexual assault’ was defeated by the assembled members of NUCA and other guests. However, the event was criticised severely by the Women’s Network after an image of NUCA’s poster (see above) was published on their Facebook group.

One WN member said “Can’t the University do something? I’m pretty sure this is not acceptable even as a debate.”

Thomas Barlow, Chair of NUCA, told Impact that the motion was the most popular vote of the options offered to members. Barlow said: “I don’t think there’s anything wrong with debating issues. We tend to try to put questions to people that are topical.” He added that the Women’s Network were invited to the event but did not attend.

Rose Bonner, Women’s Officer, told Impact: “Research carried out by NUS in 2010 found that 1 in 7 survey respondents have experienced a serious physical or sexual assault during their time as a student. Of those who did not report serious sexual assault to the police, 50% said it was because they felt ashamed or embarrassed, and 43% because they thought they would be blamed for what happened.”

Bonner added: “In a poll done by Amnesty International nearly 50% of respondents believed that a woman is partially or totally responsible for being raped if she has behaved in a flirtatious manner. There is a clear perception in society that survivors of sexual assault are to be blamed for what happened to them and this perpetuates a victim blaming culture. The cause of sexual assault lies with the perpetrator, never the victim. In most cases of sexual assault the perpetrator is known by the victim.

“Furthermore, 40% of adults who are raped tell no one about it. 31% of children who are abused reach adulthood without having disclosed their abuse. This means that victims don’t get the support they need to deal with the abuse or violence they have experienced.

“There is a clear need for the Union and University to provide support for survivors of sexual assault and to encourage a supportive and blame free culture,” Bonner concluded.


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35 Comments on this post.
  • M
    11 February 2013 at 17:10
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    I don’t think the women’s network were against a debate as such. More the way it was publicised – the posters were seen to be victim blaming and I agree. As a rape survivor, I don’t feel like the Conservative Society had the welfare of freshers in their mind.

    • H
      12 February 2013 at 00:26
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      Considering they have designated Freshers Reps, I highly doubt they do not have the welfare of the Freshers in their mind.

  • Meena
    11 February 2013 at 17:13
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    There’s nothing wrong with debating these issues? Groups are at liberty to discuss whatever they want, even if it is controversial.

  • Mel
    11 February 2013 at 17:14
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    Why not “do men rape women because they are dressed provocatively?” the emphasis is on the victim’s behaviour, despite the fact there are endless statistics proving that the victim’s behaviour/dress/appearance etc make no difference. If somebody wants to rape somebody else, then they will do that, whether they’re wearing a bikini or a burka.

  • Paul
    11 February 2013 at 17:17
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    Isn’t WN missing the point a little bit?

    The question was raised, and a provocative publicity image used to attract people to contest their point of view in open debate (provocative not in reference to clothing, but its statement).

    The motion was defeated, showing that common sense, reason, and modern critical thinking took primacy over damaging rhetoric.

    There is more danger in silencing an opinion and marginalising those who subscribe to it by denying a debate, than allowing the topic to be discussed in a safe environment and for reason to win through, thus creating opportunity for the misinformed to be guided toward better thinking.

  • Sarah
    11 February 2013 at 17:53
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    My initiation reaction to this was mixed, part anger, part frustration, and part disbelief that Tories could sink any lower in my already base expectations.

    After consideration however, I came to the conclusion that these are issues that clearly still requires discussion. After all, it is complex subject matter. One can express an opinion that women are more likely to become victims if they dress in a certain way just because of how you believe society looks at women, whether or not you yourself believe this is acceptable.

    There are still those out there who cling to the belief that if a women dresses a certain way she is “asking for it”. This does still need discussion so that it can be condemned.

    I am glad to hear that this motion was defeated, and I hope that all those who attended left with the belief that no matter how a woman is dressed, her intentions may be more subtle than you may think.

  • Will
    11 February 2013 at 18:16
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    Paul, if the question was so stupid that the motion was bound to be defeated, then why ask the question? Do you think it would be appropriate if you went to a Mosque and asked a controversial question about Muslims?

    I think you’re missing the point, most probably, your brain has been addled by the horse meat from Tesco burgers. If women feel offended by the poster, then it’s not a.ppropriate

  • A
    11 February 2013 at 19:35
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    It was clearly a question, and not a statement, that the WU overreacted to. Despite being invited to watch/ get involved in the debate they didn’t even bother sending a representative and then made assumptions about the poster. It’s very important for democracy for these issues to be debated, and obviously it’s a controversial topic. But it’s as anti-women as ‘Should gay marriage be legalised?’ is homophobic.
    If anyone is being controversial is the people who jump to the conclusion that just because it was a Tory hosted debate it was going to be biased and come down on the unacceptable side of the argument, which was proved wrong. It’s ‘fashionable’ to be anti-conservative, and really that’s what the scandal is, people should be free to express their opinions, which clearly the WU are trying to suppress.
    I should mention I’m in no way affiliated with NUCA and these are my own views, I’m also a girl, not that that should make any difference.

  • C
    11 February 2013 at 22:07
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    I went to the debate, not as a supporter of the Conservative Society, but mainly as a social event. The motion, in my opinion, was written in such a way that it was a yes or no question based on statistics. The debate quickly agreed that rape in no way was morally acceptable, and that women were not to be blamed for anything that they have experienced.

    Personally, I think that the Women’s Network, have little justification for their complaints, as they were invited to attend, but did not. If they had attended, then they would have witnessed a debate that did not blame women in any way.

  • A
    11 February 2013 at 23:44
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    The WN can be so tiresome. There’s nothing wrong with either the way it was advertised nor the debating issue itself. And although Rose Bonner is great at quoting statistics and survey findings, but I don’t get her point… What is she actually trying to say? That the issue shouldn’t be debated?

  • Joseph Kuhr
    12 February 2013 at 00:11
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    Hahaha, typical Tory insensitivity. Maybe if their leadership issued some sort of apology, this whole issue could be brushed under the carpet. Unfortunately, like their party’s leaders and luminaries, it’s likely that this society’s leadership has their heads too far up their own backsides to know what’s going on in the real world. Their lack of class (or maybe an overabundance of “class”), dignity, respect and consideration for their fellow students’ well-being is disgusting.

  • Anonymous UoN Male
    12 February 2013 at 00:35
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    The first commenter, “M”, has this totally right. I agree to some extent with this question being asked, it’s something that must go through the minds of girls and anyone who has a girl to care about every time they go out. There are some disgusting people in this world who wrongly take advantage of women, something I think we can all agree on.

    However, this image is totally distorting the debate and is completely inappropriate. If the debate is truly innocent, then why not put up the debate subject without any accompanying images? From my point of view, the Conservative society are trying to lead any potential guests of this evening towards a certain conclusion. If this was unintentional then they have been extremely careless and should be sanctioned.

    It’s clear this debate’s advertising has annoyed and possibly hurt several people, I feel extremely sorry for “M”, especially if she had to witness this image first-hand. When it comes to a serious issue such as rape, people need to be hypersensitive. An image is either neutral or harmful when being used alongside such a delicate topic.

  • Dave J
    12 February 2013 at 09:12
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    They should have posted an image of a neolithic fort or something, just to be safe.

  • X
    12 February 2013 at 13:08
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    The point made by Rose Bonner is comparable to that of a blunt pencil.

  • Not Part of NUCA
    12 February 2013 at 13:20
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    Most of the discussion was not even discussing victim blame….It was about whether sick-minded individuals who rape women are drawn to them due to the way they dress or not. Either way the motion was overruled. Also, the fact that the WN were invited to the event at member’s price & still refused gives them little right to complain.

  • Anonymous UoN Male
    12 February 2013 at 16:19
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    “Not Part of NUCA”, if you were invited to an event that, in your opinion, had been distastefully publicised, would you pay for it? I have been flabbergasted by some of the responses on this page. Rose Bonner is making a perfectly valid point, she’s saying that victims should never be blamed in situations of rape- a point of view that the poster for this event promotes. The fact that people are making wisecracks about this on the comments is pretty unbelievable.

    • Not Part Of NUCA’s friend
      12 February 2013 at 17:06
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      I went and there were two other motions at the event that were discussed. And it is a genuinely good value event, so I would say it was worth it.

  • Anon
    12 February 2013 at 17:02
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    This furore is pathetic. Nothing should stop anyone (even Tories) to discuss what they so wish. Certain WN members are trying to have their cake and eat it. On the one hand, some protest the fact that there is a debate at all and yet at the same time these same people don’t even bother to show up to articulate their views. Of course I believe rape is wrong and dress has no bearing on the likelihood of rape and nor is it an excuse for it but come on. What happened to freedom of speech?

  • Matt
    12 February 2013 at 17:26
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    The way this was advertised does lend itself somewhat to “victim blaming”, but I think, personally, that the motion is correct. However, that should not be taken as in any way meaning that the victim holds responsibility for being raped – the blame lies solely with the rapist. While this is a somewhat insensitive analogy, if I were to cross a road using a zebra crossing rather than a set of traffic lights, yes, I’m more likely to be run over. But that doesn’t mean it’s my fault I got run over.

  • Dave J
    12 February 2013 at 18:44
    Leave a Reply

    Or, to bring it a bit closer to home, Matt – if I were to wander around a place with a statistically high level of crime and start showing off various expensive items, I’d probably have to accept some responsibility if they were stolen from me. It doesn’t mean I’m the cause of the robbery.

  • Ollie
    12 February 2013 at 20:07
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    Typically, boringly, odious views from ‘Dave J’ there. Comments like the one you have just made are part of the reason that rape is the least reported violent crime and the most rarely punished. Being raped is not like getting your watch nicked- would society place the most humiliating and personal burden of guilt on your for that? No. Educate yourself.

  • Anonymous UoN Male
    12 February 2013 at 20:39
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    Dave J, if you honestly aren’t joking then I think me and you should meet up. Seriously, I want to see what your views are in real life and if you speak as freely as you do on here. This is the problem with the internet, people think that free speech is free, it’s not. If you made those comments in front of anyone in real life, something would have been done by now. You’re talking as though rape isn’t such a big thing, when it is. You wouldn’t have the bottle to say these comments in front of a rape victim and I seriously doubt you would say these comments in front of any of their boyfriends.

  • Paul
    12 February 2013 at 20:48
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    Well, Will, you had an interesting point worth debating until you decided to just be insulting, and not even with the redeeming feature of including wit or humour.

    To compare this to going into a mosque to be insulting is a rather silly one. Of course it would be, and the intention is just to insult. However since 50% of the world is female does this mean that there can NEVER be any topic up for debate that does not conform to a specific line of feminist theory and raises no controversy? (Good luck there, seeing as differentwaves vilify each others opinions on a regular basis).

    The point is that the debate raised a topic that is worth debating if only to demonstrate that the majority stand resolutely behind a particular argument and are prepared to be vocal in doing so.

    I think I’ve made it clear which side of the fence I’m on, and for what it’s worth I’m also an ardent lifelong opponent of pretty much everything the Conservatives have ever spouted. However the fact is that this is a storm in a teacup and seems to mostly be raised by those who make it their business to be offended.

  • Dave J
    12 February 2013 at 20:52
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    If it’s come across that I intended to directly compare rape with theft (or, indeed, being run over at a zebra crossing), then I’m sorry for the confusion.

    My point is that in the latter case, I would be asked why I had put myself at risk. If we’re saying a different set of standards applies to rape (and I agree, they do), I don’t see anything wrong in pointing out the discrepancy and asking why that’s the case. Maybe the answer to that question (and many other questions on this topic) can change minds for the better.

  • Paul
    12 February 2013 at 21:08
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    PS – don’t add me to the “you wouldn’t say that to a victim” list. Don’t ever suppose to know what an individual’s experience with sexual assault and victimhood is. But do allow yourself to presume that those who have been on the rough end of crime AND poor attempts at justice can be opposed to the voices of those who claim to be offended on our behalves at the opinions of others. THAT is far more offensive than a boorish and badly informed opinion.

  • ABC
    12 February 2013 at 21:46
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    University should be one of the few institutions where freedom of speech is treated as sacred, if not vital. The other being Parliament. Censoring people from debating this motion, rather than tackling it head on with facts and reason robs everyone a chance to raise awareness and learn something. Learn something, isn’t that what University and debate is for?

  • Flabbergasted of Nottingham
    13 February 2013 at 09:48
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    I think the a big part of the fuss here is that many students are immediately biased against Tories – I do wonder what the reaction would have been if Labour Soc had put forward this motion at their ‘drink and debate’?

  • Ben McCabe
    13 February 2013 at 10:55
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    @Flabbergasted of Nottingham – Personally, I think I would have the same opinion, regardless of the political colour of the organisation. I wasn’t present at the debate, so don’t know the arguments that were aired, but the suggestion that women are somewhat responsible for rape/sexual assualt is something that I find odious.

    Sexual assault is never acceptable under any circumstances. To debate whether it makes it more likely to happen should a woman dress provocatively seems to me to miss the central point, which is that it is something that needs to be stamped out. This means targeting offenders and their behaviour, not that of the victims.

  • Anon
    13 February 2013 at 14:01
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    @Ben McCabe Indeed, that suggestion is of course odious and those who articulate that point of view should be ridiculed. However I would contest that NUCA were actually implying that victims were to blame here. They are asking a question whether or not women who dress provocatively are more likely to be victims of sexual assault – they aren’t coming down on one side or another.

    Besides, even if there are those who believe that victims are to blame, they should be allowed to say it if they want. Offence is not (in my opinion anyway) a valid excuse to muzzle freedom of speech. And as the debate itself was heavily defeated it looks as if most people hold the view that rape is wrong and dress is no excuse anyway. If we as a country want to change the way rape is viewed, we NEED to debate it. Even the controversial aspects such as these. Sitting on our hands and saying nothing because a few may be offended will get us nowhere.

  • E
    13 February 2013 at 15:29
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    I agree with those who value freedom of speech. The WN does have a right to contest the notion or even the poster (though for goodness’ sake, really? I’ve seen club night advertisements with far more offensive images), but I hate the sheer hypocrisy of it all. Once again, political correctness and overreactions of a group who, as Paul said, ‘make it their business to be offended’ (and doesn’t this furore just go to show it?)actually hinder progress, hinder debate, and hinder SOMETHING BEING DONE. I am fed up of constant rhetoric and bickering, and the banning of anti-staunch feminist opinions by the WN. The fact that the WN did not even attend the debate speaks volumes. Furthermore I would urge everyone to look at this: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-21186182. Let’s step into the real world where this is all happening, and not hide away behind constant talk and idealism. You will never defeat a problem until you recognise that it exists.

  • Anonymous UoN Male
    14 February 2013 at 11:22
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    @Flabbergasted of Nottingham I don’t support Labour (or any other political party really for that matter- they’re nearly all as bad as each other) but my immediate reaction to your comment was, “Sounds like a Tory”. Why bring Labour into this? Anyone can ask the question of “what if this happened at a Labour event”.

    It doesn’t matter who said it, this shouldn’t have happened. You’re trivialising the matter by saying “what if it was someone else” and not realising that people are angry about this no matter what their political allegiances are. I’d imagine that there are Tories out there who are disgusted by this, even perhaps put off their own party.

  • Paul
    15 February 2013 at 01:05
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    A final point to raise here too:

    Have the author of the piece and the soc’s critics not been exposed to the system of “house debates”? It is not based on the premise that the people tabling a motion and stating “This house believes” have a real-life belief in whatever position they are arguing. It is an exercise in intellectual sparring and designed to bring forth relevant arguments from all sides in order to prove or disprove a motion – or at least to enlighten those taking part or watching the debate.

    An example of such a debate might be a person taking a history class, with a particular focus on transatlantic slavery one week. If a seminar task were to split the class in two and ask one side to argue passionately FOR slavery and the other AGAINST – using the points of view typical to those who defended or attacked it in the 17th to 19th centuries – nobody would be suggesting that those asked to ague in favour of slavery actually believed the things they said to be true. Instead it would be recognised that they are demonstrating understanding and learning by being able to occupy a particular mindset and state a case in debate. All that would be expected of them is to refrain from unnecessarily offensive words that are not needed to argue the point.

    It’s the basis of thousands of debating societies the world over. So isn’t the criticism leveled at the society a little wide of the mark by failing to take this into account?

  • Tobias Funke
    15 February 2013 at 13:43
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    @Paul The notion of a debate is not what is being called into question here, it is the content of the motion. If were just the fact that NUCA were debating contentious subject matter the previous 2 motions relating to benefits & parenthood would also be in contest. Your example of using a debate in a history class falls equally short because the intention there is explicitly to educate, to exhibit the views of people from a bygone era and demonstrate the difference in opinion within the historical context. NUCA aren’t attempting to show what people thought in the “17th & 19th Century” (not intentionally at least), their debate was rooted in the here and now and purported to address contemporary issues of rape.

    What is being called into question is that NUCA put forth a motion that inherently ignored the central issues concerning rape with a debate that at best implicitly blame the victims of rape & at worst suggested that there was a threshold at which men became rapists merely due to the sight of a provocatively dressed woman. What that says about the people presenting the motion is incredibly contentious & legitimately open to debate.

    Considering 86% of incidents of rape are premeditated and many victims either know, are married to or are related to the rapist. NUCA putting forth a motion that endorses the perception of ‘stranger danger’ and that rape is a spontaneous occurence highlights that they were not attempting to ‘solve’ the issue or even educate the audience on the topic of rape. Instead it demonstrated a severely ignorant point of view that hailed the fact that the motion was defeated as an example of diversity of opinion. However, even the most basic level of research would prove that the motion was doomed from the start and only served to reinforce the ignorant and sexist stereotypes that haunt the Conservative Party.

    Additionally, hiding behind the ‘we’re only saying these things so we can debate them’ is an intellectually dubious defence. They weren’t raising the most important issues concerned with rape. If that’s their ‘defence’ they might as well have the motion ‘This House believes that Homosexuals intend to convert a minimum of 80% of the population to their wicked ways’ at their next debate then.

  • Dave J
    15 February 2013 at 15:16
    Leave a Reply

    Did you attend the debate, Tobias?

  • Paul
    15 February 2013 at 20:05
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    Tobias – it appears it is not I who is missing the point.

    The point of a debate motion in a house style debate is not to explicitly argue that an organisation believes that X is true. It is a method of presenting a topic to be debated. Would the debate have drawn anyone to make any sort of argument whatsoever on either case, and therefore have any value, if the method of marketing the debate and the question posed had been “This house believes that women can wear what they please and should not face any criticism whatsoever”? Because it’s my belief that the majority would quite happily agree with that (myself included) and the debate would have been three people sat around a table wondering why nobody turned up.

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