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Sexual Assault in Nottingham: A Student’s Perspective

Following a reported increase in sexual assault cases in the Nottingham area, Impact caught up with Louise Parry-Clarke to discuss her endeavours to raise awareness of the issue and tackle it from a student-led perspective.

Louise Parry-Clarke is a student at the University of Nottingham and President of the Underground Music Society. On Sunday the 9th of February Louise made a post in the ‘Buy and Sell Notts’ Facebook page about the unacceptable amount of sexual assault and harassment in Nottingham. On the same evening, Louise created a Facebook page named ‘Safe Students,’ aimed at building a platform for students to talk about antisocial behaviour around the city. In under 24 hours over 800 members requested to join the page. Impact’s Aidan caught up with Louise to ask her about her post, the new page, men in society and much more.

What were the stories and events that lead you to make the post on ‘Buy and Sell’ and then make the page? 

I’ve always seen the posts on buy and sell anyway of people saying “followed home by crazy guy” and so I’ve always thought it was an issue. Obviously, I know there are the Night Owls and I know there are things in place, but it wasn’t until my friend made a post saying “I’ve been followed home by this guy masturbating behind me. Just want to let every know stay safe.” And I just saw it and thought ‘enough is enough.’ I thought why are we not, as students, supporting each other? Obviously, the Night Owls I think do Wednesday and Thursday, but it’s just not enough of a group project that students should be involved in, protecting each other and make a note of protecting each other so that people know that they’re there. 

As a student who’s lived in Nottingham for a number of years now, have you seen this kind of behaviour become more common/more frequent over the time you’ve been in Nottingham? 

Yeah, definitely. It’s definitely getting worse. 

Why do you say that? Have you seen the situation get worse through greater numbers of posts on social media or have you seen events in person? 

I feel like there’s this lingering air of not-niceness. When I was in my first year I used to walk home from nights out all the time, by myself, and I’d feel fine. I’d feel so safe. You never really heard anything dodgy happening. There was the odd burglary, which is to be expected, but you never heard of this sexual, sexually charged behaviour, which I think is so scary. I think it’s getting more and more dangerous. 

I’ve had so many messages being like “I’m a student and I’d love to get involved and I’d love to be a moderator” and got all these ideas, like an app”

Do you think this is particularly a problem in Nottingham or have you heard it being a problem in other cities and universities? 

I’m sure it’s a problem everywhere, I wouldn’t rule Nottingham out and say its full of perverts, but I think there’s something about Lenton. I’ve been to visit my friends in Leeds and obviously Hyde Park is not the safest place in the world. But again, it’s just burglaries and general criminal behaviour. But in Nottingham it seems to be specifically sexual criminal behaviour. I don’t know if that’s just my experience of things but that’s what it seems to be. And apparently, it’s the same people as repeat offenders so there seems to be a pattern here. 

Do the offenders tend to be students or locals? Is there any pattern to the types of people offending? 

They’re locals. Middle aged, 30 to 50 sort of age. It’s something about Lenton. I don’t know whether it’s just poorly lit or too busy, I don’t know, but it just seems to be really bad at the moment. 

When you made the page did you expect the huge number of members that joined?

I kind of did. The first thing I knew that would happen when I made the post is, I knew that it would get a lot of engagement. I knew it would get a lot of likes and reactions. To be fair I was a bit surprised there were barely any comments because normally on ‘Buy and Sell’ people talk on these posts. There were no comments and I wondered if people were a bit offended. So, I made that small edit saying, “I know the gender specific language is a bit of a thing but please don’t hate me.” But I think it’s because people are so “yeah this is an issue, we’re really angry” as well because I noticed people were liking the post and straight away and requesting to join the group, so I’d see the name twice in the notifications. So, from that I had an idea already that people were like “enough is enough” sort of thing. And I’ve had so many messages being like “I’m a student and I’d love to get involved and I’d love to be a moderator” and got all these ideas, like an app. People obviously feel unsafe and they want somewhere to direct that, and I think the group is a good place to start. And the response has proven that, which I think is wicked. 

You touched on the gendered language you used in the post, have you had any repercussions because of that? Have you received any nasty messages or anything like that? 

Not really. I think it was just that a thing went off in my head and I thought, “that could be unfair.” And I had this discussion in the group chat of my society as well, about gender and how men sit in positions of privilege by nature. And we had a member that said “well that’s a bit widespread to say all men are privileged.” And I thought, well actually they kind of are and there’s no use in skirting round the issue. I’d much rather say, well all the men in my life are fantastic and I’m so blessed to have them. They are also very comrade-y in their attitude towards things. It’s like “you’re my friend and you’re a girl so I’m going to keep you safe.” They know that they sit in that position of privilege and they respect it and they use it for something that goes like so far beyond that. Like, they’ll walk you home because they know a girl walking with a bloke is much safer than a girl by herself or with another girl. There’s always going to be someone who says, “you’re saying all men are evil and I’m a nice guy.” But really, I don’t really care if you’re a nice guy, I’m talking about the 30,000 other blokes that really aren’t. I can’t remember the statistics but stuff like domestic abuse and sexual assault, like statistically you can’t really argue with it. We aren’t safe. I think every single one of my woman friends has been sexually assaulted, harassed or raped. And you can’t argue with that, you know. Even in my community that’s a statistic so I can’t even imagine how widespread that would be. So, with the language, the reason I wanted to add that in is because if you’re offended, there’s probably a reason you’re offended. 

For the most part, I just want it to be a place where people can go when they don’t feel safe.”

So how does the page work at the moment?

My original idea going into it was that people would post like “I’m walking down this road, I don’t feel safe, can anyone come meet me.” That kind of stuff. As times gone on, we’ve had discussions about initiatives we could do. So, there was the sticker idea where people that were part of the group would put a sticker on their house door or window with the logo we’d decide on and people could knock on the door and say “I’m not safe.” For the most part, I just want it to be a place where people can go when they don’t feel safe. So, I’m hoping people will post in the group and say, “I’m on this street, can someone come meet me?” I don’t know how safe that will be and that’s why we’ve been speaking about the app and all these other ideas.

Have you got any plans for the page going into the future?

I don’t at the moment, and I need to figure it all out. I’ve had so many students message me with great ideas. On guy messaged me and he was like “it would be so great if we could have a data base.” So rather than the stickers, we’d speak to everyone in the group and say, if you live on any of these roads can you nominate yourself to be like a safe house on that road. And then on the app they’d come up on a map. So, you know when you’re on Uber and you can see the cars driving round? That sort of thing. So, when people are walking around they know “Okay, that’s the safe house.” And you can update it because its and app. Because we were worried about the stickers if new students moved in they wouldn’t know that it’s a thing. But with the app they can update it on a yearly basis so it would probably be a lot safer. I thought that would be a really good idea.

“If there’s going to be an initiative,

now is the time to do it”

There have been comments on the page about stepping on the university’s toes when it comes to student safety. Have you reached out to the uni at all, and if not do you plan to?

Yeah so, the Night Owls commented in the group and I think that’s wicked and obviously there are uni initiatives that are happening, and I don’t dispute that in the slightest but, and not in a mean way, it’s not enough. My friend got sexually assaulted the other day, it’s not enough. They need to know that, and they know that there is this group of people who are willing to be part of this initiative. In the questions to the FB page it said, “do you commit to protecting people?” So, being part of this group means that you’re not only seeking your own protection, it’s a mutually assured thing. Like, you protect me, and I’ll protect you. And that’s 1200 people now. So, if there’s going to be an initiative, now is the time to do it. The Night Owls are fantastic but its just not enough.

Aidan Hall

Featured image courtesy of Howard Lake via Flickr. Image use license found here.

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