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In August this year, Tom Fox, LUSU Vice President of Welfare and Community, announced that so-called ‘Lads Mags’ such as Zoo and Loaded, will be removed from LUSU Central shelves for that start of this term; and will be prohibited from being sold in LUSU stores. This is due to the fact that these lad mags regularly feature images of naked, or half-naked, women which Fox has noted tend to contribute to the concerning nature of rape culture.
Rape culture is a set of attitudes within society which normalises or legitimises rape, and various other forms of sexual harassment or violence. It is suggested that this culture can derive from the notorious LAD culture, which is often perceived to be championed by these so-called lad mags. Fox believes that the removal of magazines like Zoo and Loaded is a step in the right direction towards diminishing this culture amongst young people, stating that “removing lad mags is just one of the ways that we as a Union are trying to tackle it, by removing publications that could be seen as endorsing these viewpoints”.
LUSU are also taking steps to eradicating rape culture in other ways. After Edinburgh University recently banned the Robin Thicke song ‘Blurred Lines’ from playing in university buildings, due to its alleged sexism and references to non-consensual sex, LUSU have decided to create an online poll which will allow Lancaster students to vote for whether they believe the song should be banned in the same manner – as well as opening the point up for discussion to LUSU Council.
However, it is possible to suggest that rape culture may not be particularly overriding in Lancaster. In 2009, Lancaster was proclaimed the safest university city in the United Kingdom by the Complete University Guide. Indeed, it appears that rather than the Union trying to prevent sexist attitudes becoming an issue at Lancaster, they are instead reacting to the lack of interest in these attitudes within the wider student body. “These lad mags were selling less than five copies a year”, Fox noted. “It felt like a good time to remove them as it was more than apparent that students did not want them in their shop”. Previous work by LUSU’s welfare arm – as well as the Lancaster University Feminist Society and the annual Vagina Monologues production that takes place in Lancaster – suggest that the student body are unaffected by this rape culture and may have helped to affirming a positive attitude towards both genders. However, the question remains: is Lancaster entirely free of rape culture?
This is perhaps the case, although the evidence suggests that there needs to be more education with regards to rape culture and consensual sex. During an investigation in collaboration with Bailrigg FM, a sample of Lancaster University’s student population were asked, “do you think rape culture exists in Lancaster?” The results were split 50/50, and whilst admittedly a small sample size in comparison to the number of students at Lancaster, the results seems to suggest that there is a reasonable amount of confusion around the issue.
Delving a little deeper, it seems that the confusion around rape culture’s existence may stem from different understandings of what constitutes consensual sex. Alcohol, for example, appears to make the issue a particularly grey area. In an anonymous survey conducted in February 2013, the Feminist Society asked a sample of 100 people whether they agreed with the statement “sex with a drunk [sic] person can’t be consensual” – to this, 17% strongly disagreed and 16% slightly disagreed; with 34% slightly agreeing and 10% of those surveyed strongly agreeing.
The comments made by many of the respondents reveal the complexities of the issue and apparently confusion of the matter. Many respondents believed that the level of intoxication was an important factor to consider. Whilst many agreed with the statement that “if a someone is passed out drunk, then it is not consensual”, statements along the lines of “a person can still consent to sex provided they aren’t… too drunk” were also common. The general attitude appears to be that as long as the person in question appears to have some control over their actions, then sex can be deemed consensual – despite the fact that statistics show you are more likely to be sexually assaulted by a friend than a stranger.
Drink can also prove to be problematic in other ways. Speaking confidentially to SCAN, one source revealed that she had been sexually assaulted in the home of a fellow student whom she had met that night, despite making it clear she was not interested and making verbal and physical protestations when subjected to the advances of another intoxicated student, she was forced to leave and call the police. Whilst it is impossible to blame the actions of an intoxicated individual on rape culture, it appeared to manifest in other areas of the source’s account. Our source revealed that they felt uncomfortable telling their friends about the incident, due to one previously labelling her a “slag”. They also felt that the police response was ineffective and their complaint went no further.
The police force in Lancaster, however, appear to take accusations of rape and sexual harassment very seriously, running a strong campaign against such issues on their website. In a conversation with SCAN, a police spokesperson said that “in recent years, we have made significant advances in the way we approach investigation of this difficult offence. The creation of specialised teams is seen as a real step forward and has been met with positive feedback from both victims and partner agencies”.
“What is of upmost importance is that victims of rape have the confidence to report such crimes, as well as having confidence that any allegation will be dealt with properly, sensitively and robustly by the police”.
On the other hand, the police also acknowledge the complexities of investigating rape and sexual assault cases: “understanding the true nature and extent of rape is difficult, because academic research shows that the incidence of this offence is underreported”. Indeed, research shows that 40% of rape victims in the UK do not report the crime, and there appears to be an extremely low conviction rate when they do.
Therefore, whilst LUSU may be making moves to tackle rape culture indirectly, by banning inappropriate magazines from campus – and possibly even controversial songs in the near future – what perhaps is more vital is education as to what counts as consensual sex. Campaigns such as Easy Tiger can only benefit the student body, by encouraging people to take care of themselves and be aware of how much alcohol they are consuming in order to remain alert during nights out. The example of alcohol given is just one area where there appears to be a considerable lack of understanding and consensus; this makes it harder for people to report sexual assault, and thus itself adds to a dangerous culture which appears to legitimise rape. The first step towards tackling rape culture and sexism is better education around the areas of consensual sex and staying safe.