During a Slutwalk in Vancouver in June 2015, Lauren Southern, a far-right political activist, interrupted the demonstration to proclaim, ‘There is no rape culture in the west’. It wasn’t true then, and it isn’t true now.
The University of Warwick’s latest scandal, where 10 students were exposed for participating in a group chat that included outrageously sexist, racist, antisemitic and generally offensive content, has sparked fury and outrage. An appeal led to the university to consider the return of two the students later this year.
Rape culture is visible not only in the West, but in our classrooms, on our campuses, and among students we assumed were socially conscious. It really puts into perspective the implications of Southern’s ‘West’ exemption. This categorization of the west as the epicentre of ‘modernity’, equality and progress is nowhere more fraught with contradictions than when see the distinction between the heinous group chat content, and the image the group aims to construct, of being prestigious, well-read and ‘enlightened’.
The university’s disciplinary investigation resulted in five suspensions, but it begs the question, why is the investigation so internalised? It troubles me that Warwick has repeatedly expressed its regret and concern over the actions yet has made no move to prevent any danger towards students. It’s deeply concerning that ‘Prevent’, a national counter terrorism strategy, is training teachers to detect radicalised features in children as young as three. Yet this same state turns away from sexual violence and regularly cuts local services that disproportionately affect women, such as sexual health clinics.
Whilst the Student Union have provided an extensive list of counselling and support services students can seek, this is treating the symptom not the cause. Whilst I would urge students to seek these valuable services, it places the responsibility on the victims to act on the consequences, rather than the perpetrators to change their behaviour. The women cited in the group chat, and most importantly threatened with violence, are expected to deal emotionally with the consequences, whilst the students involved are provided with multiple solutions that can ease them back into an educative environment.
In addition, the fact that the group chat targeted specific women to rape and attack, sheds a light on how space is navigated and controlled. Space becomes narrow and shrunken for women. Girls are taught to fear walking alone, to fear dark streets and to protect themselves from the male attention. Yet for the men that the group chat represents, they make social spaces their field of play. This is clear in the odious comments, ‘rape 100 girls’ and ‘rape her in the street while everybody watches’ stress the accumulative and public nature of the threats. The emphasis is on humiliation and power as the men claim the space around them as their default environment. Whilst women are taught to become submissive, accommodating and altogether accepting of this violent and confined reality.
As it’s clear that the group chat revealed real life threats towards individuals, I am confused (yet ultimately unsurprised) as to why the university hasn’t taken this as any other threat with an intention to commit a violent crime. It baffles me that the acts of heroism, courage and collective action that students learn about in History seminars can conflict with a reality so vile. Therefore, if their lenient punishments are to help them pursue further study, it doesn’t seem as though the education is making a difference.
A repeated statement I noticed when talking to people about the group chat, was that the students involved were universally considered nice, respectful and aware. The discrepancy between this presentation and the reality, a reality fraught with both hideous ‘jokes’ and outright threats, stresses the distinction between the university’s image and its lived reality. Warwick’s ongoing strategy is ‘helping to transform our region, country and world for the collective good’. This distinction between a goal to promote morality, community and learning, and the reality that exposes how students who are ‘learning’ really think and feel, shows two sides to university life.
The University of Warwick is ranked one of the best university’s in the ‘west’, and in the world. Yet this prevalence of rape culture, and literal rape threats, makes me feel ashamed to be a student here.
Anita Slater is a finalist and co-editor-in-chief of the Warwick Globalist.