Our Online Editor Hannah Price carried out a Snapchat project that spotlights the sexual abuse, sexual harassment and sexism that lurks beneath the surface of university life.
*Trigger Warning: This post contains detailed information about sexual assault that some readers may find disturbing.*
We live in a generation where morphing your face into an alien, an animal or even your friend is completely normal. We have Bitmojis that look more like us than we do when we wake up in the morning.
We also live in a society where someone groping you is just as normal. When did the latter happen and why?
Social media is second nature to millennials. Snapchat is a platform that is led by us. While we’ve mastered the filters, the media and businesses have been trying to work out a way to utilise the selfie-taking phenomenon. What if it could be used to powerfully humanise and address more serious issues?
In India they did just that. Using Snapchat, two rape victims captured their stories while still abiding by their country’s restrictive laws in a sombre yet liberating way. The app extraordinarily allowed for raw emotion to radiate through their masked identities. This inspired me into thinking about how, as the generation that has propelled Snapchat into success, we could use a similar innovative approach to highlight and humanise sexual assault on campus.
And that’s exactly what I tried to do with the #RevoltAgainstSexualAssault campaign.
There was nervous laughter and a few tears as myself and each student picked out a disguise that both captured and empowered their feelings of discontent, anger and pain. However, behind the flower crowns and puppy ears, I watched as the face-tracking software magically boosted their confidence, easing them just enough to find their voice.
Each story that was portrayed through a series of snaps proved to be a tough watch, even beneath a filter, yet, startlingly, the most jarring element of the video project was unseen. When I met with each volunteer, the same question was posed to me: ‘Which incident do I talk about?’, I was asked again and again. The silence that followed is what has stuck with me; the moment where we both soundlessly acknowledged that the distressing account they had chosen was just one of many – without even a sigh of surprise.
Lines seem to be blurred as to what is classed as sexual assault, so let’s be clear – the term refers to forced sexual contact or behaviour, that occurs without explicit consent of the victim, and applies to both women and men. This ranges from rape to unwanted fondling, both of which is addressed by Bristol students that took part in this campaign.
If you, or someone you know, is struggling with the concept of consent then this tea analogy is for you.
Speaking to me after the completion of the video a Masters student, who wished to remain anonymous, highlighted the importance of sharing her story of sexual assault,
‘While my female friends are always supportive they are never really surprised, but my male friends are. I don’t think they really realise how prevalent this is.’
For many, university is a young person’s first time living independently as an adult. The student bubble differs hugely to any typical school or work-place environment – you are suddenly living, eating, studying and socialising with your peers; day in, day out. This, of course, can provide the perfect setting to enjoy yourself. However, escapism is much harder to come by, therefore if you find yourself as a victim of a crime you are suddenly far more vulnerable. How do you speak out if the chances of running into your attacker are so high?
That isn’t where the turmoil ends. Throughout all areas of life there are obstacles that make discussing and dealing with sexual assault extremely distressing. For example, the ‘you asked for it’ blame game whereby a female’s attire and alcohol intake takes centre-stage, rather than the traumatising events that they have just endured.
During the opening snaps a volunteer speaks on behalf of a Bristol student who was assaulted by her flatmate’s boyfriend, in the safety of her own halls of residence. She draws attention to the hypocrisy of the, ‘it was your fault’ stigma by recounting that the perpetrator, in this instance, justified his actions with ‘substance abuse’.
Less than a week ago, on Tuesday 2 May, a Bristol University student was sexually assaulted, in broad day light, whilst walking past Beacon House. The 22-year-old women spoke to Epigram about the ordeal,
‘We all tell women not to go by themselves to quiet places late at night, but I was with a friend, surrounded by people, in a ‘safe’ area, and during the day. Surely that’s enough to prove that the focus should be shifted from having to protect yourself from being sexually assaulted, to telling boys never to attack women?’
I’m not sure when it happened but sexual assault seems to have become ‘normalised’, within the university environment. The dangers of indifference can easily be overlooked, but should not be underestimated.
It has become less and less common to openly discuss sexual assault because, for many, it has become the equivalent of a shoulder shrug – an accepted part of everyday life. While using Snapchat could come across as ‘trivial’ for such a serious topic, the stories are presented in a format that we are all so familiar with to starkly contrast ‘normality’ with the severity of the problem.
A number of participants in the video address the indifference towards sexual assault by recalling the ridicule they received when they objected to groping and harassment. A third year student reported, ‘The more angry I got, they just laughed in my face’.
So, it is unsurprising that many have accepted these type of actions as ‘normal’.
All of this seems to have gagged us into staying silent, but if the conversation stops how can the myths behind the subject be dispelled?
During the project, the gravity of hearing the word ‘rape’ aloud really resonated with our viewers. Sarah Redrup, choosing no filter, candidly disclosed details about her attacks:
‘Since being a student here I’ve been raped again 3 times and assaulted a lot. Every time it’s happened it’s been someone that I know, I like, I love and that I see all the time.’
The use of the word rape immediately sparked a discussion and opened the eyes of many about the darker aspects of university life, hinting at the promise that more conversation could bring.
An anonymous student from the video told Epigram, ‘hearing about the project made me acknowledge what had happened last year. It kind of made me have acceptance for something that I had blamed myself for, for such a long time and made me realise that there are so many other people in the same position’.
While another anonymous contributor added,
‘I felt empowered after doing it because I knew that my story had been shared with strangers, and has the potential to reach people who’d benefit from hearing it.’
To finish, I would just like to emphasise that the six-minute video that we have created, with the help of brave, strong women only touches the surface of the problem facing us, and in no way represents the full picture.
Homophobia and attacks on men are just as serious and just as common. However, we were unable to find participants; suggesting an even greater reluctance to open up amongst the opposite sex.
Sarah Roller, a second-year history student, perfectly attested to the purpose of this campaign, and future campaigns: ‘people shouldn’t have to suffer in silence: the Snapchat project seemed like a good way of letting people have their own voice’.
In a better world, I would have been writing about a video that showcased the untouched faces of the beautiful, intelligent women that sat across the room from me, and as they looked into the camera you would be seeing the same emotion in their eyes that I saw.
Yet, right now we don’t live in a better world and victims’ voices are being suppressed by the environment we have created. But, even underneath the extra layer of filters and emojis, you can see that these women are not just statistics, they are real, and you can hear what they are trying to tell you loud and clear.
If you or someone you know has been sexually assaulted, you can seek help by calling Rape Crisis England and Wales on 0808 802 9999. For more resources on sexual assault, visit The Survivor Pathway and SupportLine.
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