Protest with Socialist Students on April 21st for free education – get in touch at socialiststudents.org.uk/join for more info about a local protest near you. Socialist Students says we need:
- Government funding for what women need on campus – properly funded support services, campus lighting and affordable housing. Scrap marketisation, fees and debt!
- Democratic oversight of sexual harassment reporting procedures by joint trade union and student led committees and ensuring procedures are implemented
- A united campaign of staff and students that can fight to transform our campuses in our interests – organise for free education and make the 1% pay!
- To fight for a socialist alternative to capitalist inequality and chaos
Socialist Students stand in absolute solidarity with all those angry about the devastating killing of Sarah Everard, including the many students and young women speaking out about their own experiences of sexual harassment and violence for the first time. We demand that Sarah’s murderer is held to account for their actions, along with the institution of the Metropolitan police. But holding an individual’s actions to account is the first step in addressing this issue; it cannot be our last.
We need to act to challenge the fundamentally unequal capitalist system and it’s structures that underpin sexist actions and attitudes. We can’t keep attending vigils for murdered women to then wake up the next day and go back to the same as before. We refuse to continue to sit and nod in empathy when our friends tell us about their experiences of sexual violence and sexism on campuses and elsewhere. It clearly is not enough.
We need to fight for better street lighting; for a fully funded, safe and affordable public transport system; for more spending on support services for victims of abuse and rape; for a transformation of the criminal justice system that means only 1% of reported rapes end in conviction; for democratic control of the police.
In the same week Sarah was murdered it was reported a staggering 97% of young women in the UK have experienced sexual harassment. We experience it in public, where we are more reliant on walking or using public transport than those who can drive. Women students forced to work part time evening jobs to support ourselves through our studies often have to travel home late with drunken groups (in non-covid times) taunting or degrading us. Even in our homes and places of study, we face sexual harassment and violence. A recent NEU survey found 37% of girls at mixed-sex schools have been sexually harassed while at school. Over a third of student sexual assaults take place in halls of residences.
Instead of facing up to the scale of the problem, our institutional managers have responded by silencing us, even using gagging orders to prevent us speaking out. Recent research found university bosses have tried to conceal the extent of sexual misconduct, instead of taking action to protect staff and student welfare. As long as these procedures are in management’s hands, it is clear that reputation and cost-saving will be prioritised over staff and student welfare. Cuts to welfare services have been so extreme that students are taking to anonymously posting their experiences on social media to get help. Students and workers need democratic oversight of all policies relating to sexual misconduct and violence to ensure they are fit for purpose and enforced with processes and policies clearly outlined, alongside a huge increase in funding for university and specialist support services.
There has been an outpouring of shared experiences by women in response to Sarah’s killing; a vital first step in evidencing that harassment, violence and abuse are clearly systemic. Yet so often authorities’ first answer is to advise women to change our behaviour! We should be able to go where we want, when we want, to dress the way we please and to live our lives without fear of violence and harassment. We should challenge individual prejudices, gender stereotypes and sexist behaviour where we see it. However, the danger of this approach is reducing the issue to an individual problem. In reality, any individual’s attitudes and behaviours are shaped by the economic and social system we live in, capitalism.
To eliminate gender violence and abuse we need to organise for structural change that tackles the problems at their very root. We need a fundamental system change that takes economic and political control out of the hands of the minority that profit from gender and class inequality: we need socialism. By changing these economic conditions, the established sexual hierarchies of capitalism, where women are inferior and subjugated, crumble.
As Socialist Students, an immediate issue is fighting against the huge rates of sexual harassment and assault on campus. It has been over a decade since the first significant modern report into sexual harassment on UK campuses. The last ten years have shown raising awareness is not enough to simply challenge sexual harassment on campus. Neither is leaving vital support services and reporting processes in the hands of uni bosses.
- Decisive, united action organised around a programme that includes demands against marketisation, fees and austerity.
- Well-funded support services, non-exploitative housing, and clear and democratic reporting procedures.
- An end to “gagging”/ non disclosure agreements in cases of sexual assault
- A trade union and student-led inquiry into the true extent of sexual harassment and violence on UK campuses, as well as in schools and colleges.
- Democratic oversight of sexual harassment reporting procedures by joint trade union and student led committees.
- A united campaign of staff and students that can fight to transform our campuses in our interests
- Build a movement for free education – scrap fees and debt and introduce student living grants. Fight for full government funding to provide a safe and free education for all.
We have to fight for a socialist system that represents an alternative to the unequal and oppressive structures of capitalism where women’s labour is exploited, our bodies presented as commodities, and our lives taken. It is only through this system that we can address the issue of sexual and gendered violence.