Impact News

Trailblazing Campaign ‘Our Streets Now UoN’ Launched At University To End Public Sexual Harassment

Lauren McGaun

Our Streets Now UoN, a new University of Nottingham campaign to tackle public sexual harassment, was recently set up and has seen several students submit testimonies citing targeted harassment against them. The campaign has issued an open letter to the Vice Chancellor, Shearer West, which calls on the University to take action in tackling the problem of public sexual harassment.

Impact’s News Editor, Lauren McGaun, caught up with one of the organisers of Our Streets Now UoN, Emily Garton, to discuss the objectives of the campaign.

Why was this campaign initially set up?

Our Streets Now began with sisters Maya and Gemma Tutton, after Gemma first experienced public sexual harassment (PSH) on the street when she was 11 years old. Inspired by their own experiences, and a French law passed in August 2018 which introduced on-the-spot fines of up to €750 (£650) for street harassment, they started a petition on change.org to make PSH a criminal offence. The petition has since been signed by over 200,000 people.

The Higher Education campaign, #StudentsNotObjects, which launched on 22nd February 2021, aims to raise awareness of the prevalence of PSH and to work with institutions to implement positive changes. This work is imperative in light of our survey carried out last year, which found that 84% of students and alumni had experienced PSH.

Once lockdown ends, do you think the University should be doing more to monitor safety in nightclubs?

Nights out are undoubtedly a huge part of student life but they are often ruined by sexual harassment. The University has a great deal of authority and strong connections to establishments in Nottingham, so they have the means and the opportunity to encourage large student clubs to protect students.

Bystander training for staff in student bars or nightclubs could make a massive difference to the safety of students. Also, compulsory consent workshops, which include PSH, at university would also help to make students aware of behaviour which is acceptable whilst also empowering them to be able to deal better with experiences of PSH – for themselves and those around them.

72% of students do not know where to report harassment or seek support services for public sexual harassment at their institutions

What is the main objective you hope to achieve in issuing this letter to the University?

We want to generate an open conversation with the University management and collaborate to find ways in which we could tackle the problem of PSH on campus and in Nottingham. An OSN 2020 survey found that 72% of students did not know or were unsure about where to report harassment or seek support services for PSH at their institutions.

Although there are already some support systems in place for victims of harassment and assault here at Nottingham, the majority of students are unaware of this, which means they feel alone and unsupported. Policies must be clear and visible. Hopefully, our campaign can raise awareness of both the issue and direct those who need it towards support so that victims don’t feel so alone.

It is time Higher Education institutions take responsibility for the PSH affecting their students and ensure the safety of the entire student body. Without this safety, the right to education, particularly that of women and non-binary students, is compromised.

The normalisation of public sexual harassment in society and within University culture is holding students back

Do you think victims worry about anonymity and this being compromised when trying to come forward with issues to the University?  

I think that the main concern for victims is that they will not be believed or taken seriously. I’m sure there are concerns about anonymity (these may also arise where policies and information about support are unclear or unknown) but primarily I’ve been aware of students who are reluctant to seek support as they feel that their experiences are just considered a “normal” part of being a woman.

A victim-blaming culture is preventing individuals from coming forward and accessing the support they deserve, even where there are processes in place. The majority of students (over 8 in 10) are affected by PSH, but many feel that they are expected to just “deal with it” or are told to simply “take it as a compliment.”

The normalisation of PSH in society and within University culture is holding students back and the University needs to make it clear that these experiences are not normal, not your fault and unacceptable; as well as ensuring that something will be done if you wish to seek support.

Do you think the consumption of alcohol causes a greater risk of PSH or not?

I think it is a common misconception that factors such as alcohol or clothing contribute to experiences of PSH. I have personally been sexually harassed in public when I’ve not had any alcohol and when I haven’t been dressed up ‘nicely’. Wearing trackies and a hoodie or being sober does not stop PSH – thousands of testimonies also reflect this.

However, sometimes I do decide to make different clothing choices or be careful with how much alcohol I consume. This is not because I think I am less likely to experience sexual harassment if I do this, but because I am aware that if something were to happen, I would more likely be taken seriously if I were sober and had covered up.

I know many people who also feel like this and this is another way victim-blaming culture and misinformation restricts students’ daily lives.

Do you think this is an issue exclusively to women or are men affected too?

PSH is normally carried out by men towards women and girls – PSH is the most common form of gender-based violence and, worldwide, statistics show that 80% of women endure at least frequent PSH. However, other marginalised genders experience PSH frequently as well.

PSH is about power and control, and research conducted by YouGov suggested a significant relationship between belief in traditional male gender norms and the acceptability of PSH. This is not to say that this issue excludes men, in fact it only proves that men are negatively affected too. Toxic masculinity and the expectations of men in society is incredibly harmful – these are not single gender issues.

More information, resources and Our Streets Now photo series in collaboration with Cheer Up Luv can be found on their website.  

Our Streets Now UoN can also be found on Instagram where several student testimonies have been posted.

Lauren McGaun


Featured image courtesy of  Our Streets Now UoN on Instagram.

In-article image courtesy of @cutecatcalls via instagram.com. No changes made to this image.

Embedded TikTok via @sophiasmithgaler.

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