When people think of sexual assault they often picture it occurring away from the public eye, somewhere hidden, the sexual predator resembling the stereotypical look portrayed in movies such as The Lovely Bones or The Butterfly Effect. However, that is not always the case. When speaking to a member of the organisation, Rape Crisis England and Wales, they highlighted some statistics. ‘Approximately 85,000 women and 12,000 men are raped in England and Wales alone every year; that’s roughly 11 rapes every hour. These figures include assaults by penetration and attempts.’ With more and more celebrities and big, public figures having allegations fired at them, it is becoming apparent that the problem is bigger than people initially realised.
A wave of sexual assault allegations has recently swept over both the worlds of show business and politics following multiple women accusing Harvey Weinstein of sexual assault; from inappropriate comments to rape. Many big names have admitted to being sexually abused by Weinstein including Angelina Jolie, Cara Delevingne, and Rose McGowan. These allegations sparked a lot of attention which resulted in ‘#MeToo’ going viral of social platforms such as Twitter and Facebook. This hashtag was created in order to drawn attention to how many people around us have been victims of sexual assault. The #MeToo campaign was first started by Tarana Burke over 10 years ago. Burke began the campaign after meeting a young girl who admitted to her that she was being sexual abused by her mother’s boyfriend. From that day on Burke promised herself that she would help survivors of sexual assault. When asked about the hashtag she said, ‘On one side, it’s a bold declarative statement that ‘I’m not ashamed’ and ‘I’m not alone.’ On the other side, it’s a statement from survivor to survivor that says, ‘I see you, I hear you, I understand you and I’m here for you or I get it’.’
The way sexual assault is dealt with has many flaws, often victims are too scared to admit to being sexually assaulted due to the fact that they fear nothing will be done to help them. Unfortunately, this is often the reality of the situation. The way sexual assault is dealt with tends to be stricter within institutions such as school and universities, as appose to the scenes of show business and politics.
Although schools and universities are meant to be places of ultimate safety, often sexual assault slips our attention. Although cases of students getting sexually assaulted by teachers do also occur, it has come to the public’s attention that child-on-child sexual assaults at schools are on the rise. According to statistics gathering by The Guardian ‘Almost 30,000 reports of children sexually assaulting other youngsters, including 2,625 alleged attacks on school premises, have been made to police in the last four years.’ Many children have reported sexual assault committed by their fellow class mates that has often been brushed over and excused as playful behaviour. The most that has been done in some cases is the teachers telling the students to stay away or block the student that had assaulted them.
Universities have recently been trying incredibly hard to tackle such behaviour in their organisations as alarm bells have been going off due to the rise in cases of sexual assault.
The University of Essex, for example, provides support for students who may need any sort of help in the circumstances where sexual assault is involved. When spoken to about the issues faced by many universities and similar institutions, Ebba Jannert, the president of the Sexual Awareness Society at the University of Essex explained how the university tackle these issues. “The University is doing a lot of different things to tackle the amount of sexual abuse that has taken place and is currently doing so. Victims can receive support and advice if they want to report the incident, and there is also the Bystander Intervention training happening, which shows how to intervene in case they see any sort of sexual harassment or abuse happening.”
Ebba also explained how difficult it was initiating her society within the university. “One of the main problems I saw when starting up the society is that most of the projects that are going on are targeted towards people who are already aware of the problems and are working against it.”
“The Bystander Intervention Program is a brilliant idea; however, it does not reach out to those who might need it the most and that is definitely a problem.”
The world of show business is full of secrets and cover-ups. The subject of sexual assaults tends to be brought up only when someone big is accused by more than one person, like in the case of Harvey Weinstein. Victims are often too afraid to come out with their allegations due to the fear of their career being affected by doing so. Their claims are also often dismissed due to the amount of power the people they accused have.
Sexual assault ranges and varies from sexual harassment to actual rape. However, people feel as though there is a ‘grey area’ and often do not know where the line is when it comes to what is regarded as sexual assault and what is not.
When asked about the issues revolving around sexual assault in the show business scene/politics compared to school and other such institutions, Ebba explained how she sees the issue, from the point of view of someone who fights to educate people about the issue. “I think the problem exists all over our society. It is something we need to combat in all cultures over the world. I can only really speak for the politics part myself, and even though a lot of the things experienced within politics are very serious, they happen in other places as well. This is why I think we really need to combat the issue on a structural level.”
However, although there are worrying issues surrounding how sexual assault is dealt with in the world of fame, it has improved massively over the years. When speaking to a member of The Survivor’s Trust organisation, they confirmed “Although in some cases people do still find it incredibly difficult to report sexual assault, it has become easier for victims to receive support and recover after traumatic events. Ebba also had an opinion on this issue and said, “I do think a lot of it is thanks to the rise of the feminist movement. The sexual revolution in the late 60’s and 70’s focused a lot on female empowerment and body rights, something that later embraced other sexualities and gender expressions. This has successively made the situation a lot better, even though we still see a massive issue throughout all cultures in our society, something that the #MeToo movement has truly shown throughout the last couple of weeks.”
It has only been recently that this issue has really been brought out into the light for the public to see. The hashtag trend has helped to highlight just how alarming this issue is and how many people around us are affected by this daily. Simply through encouraging education about the matters of consent and sexual abuse and helping victims who just need to be guided back into life after something so traumatic, a difference can be made. This happening also brought out the problem society has with extremely wealthy and powerful individuals believing that due to their power, they can get away with such crimes. The fight against sexual abuse will continue, this time with even more people like Ebba, battling their way to sexual freedom.