Trigger warning: mentions of sexual harassment and assault
On May 30th, a notice from LICA circulated in group chats stating that there had been reports of sexism towards female-presenting students from contractors working in the Bowland Annexe.
These reports include catcalling, alongside an account from a student of an incident where a female student was permitted entry into the building because she “looked like a nice girl.” However, a group of male students were denied access.
The reports were dealt with swiftly by the University. LICA Director of UG Studies Sarah Casey “escalated the complaint” to the LICA Department Head, Alan Marsden, who followed up with Lancaster University’s Facilities.
The main contractor “Had a talk with all the workers at the Bowland Annexe about the standards of behaviour expected [and] numbered vests were issued to be worn by each of them,” Alan Marsden informed SCAN.
The released statement also encourages students to report incidents of unacceptable behaviour, quoting the vest number if available. Sarah Casey points out: “We [the University] do not expect anyone who is a victim of this harassment to necessarily be able to identify culprits.”
“However, any further details that can be added to these reports will help the university to act to stop this taking place.”
A meeting between the LICA Department Head and his Facilities contact suggested that the sexual harassment had “probably come from a team subcontracted to do a particular piece of work rather than from the regular contractor team.”
“Nevertheless, the contractors acknowledged their responsibility to ensure standards of behaviour from everyone working for them.” Contractors on site are expected to abide by the codes of practice and conduct.
This individual case of harassment was dealt with seemingly swiftly by the University. Further, the University has an incidents report page which offers support. However, the incident has raised questions of whether or not students feel safe from sexual harassment on campus, so SCAN decided to investigate.
51 out of 131 people voted yes on our self-selecting poll asking: ‘Have you ever experienced an instance of catcalling or other forms of sexual harassment on campus?’
The definition of Sexual harassment is unwanted behaviour of a sexual nature. The law states that sexual harassment includes violating someone’s dignity and creating an intimidating, hostile, degrading, or offensive environment. The Equality Act 2010 makes sexual harassment illegal.
Sexual harassment differs from sexual assault, which refers to unwanted sexual contact. Victim Support’s website classifies sexual harassment under three main categories: sexual jokes, sexual advances (‘leering’ or inappropriate sexual propositions), and verbal harassment.
The latter includes ‘sexually suggestive comments’, such as someone remarking on your body. Catcalling falls into this category. Census data has gathered that five women aged between 16 to 34 experienced at least one form of harassment in the previous 12 months in their 2021 study.
Upon asking what catcalling comments our followers have received on campus, one respondent stated that they received the catcall, “What that mouth do.” Another person “Was called a whore by a bunch of lads after coming back from shopping.”
Another student confessed to a distressing situation in which she was “On a way back from a night out and had a small crop top on, a group of lads taking drugs decided to tell me to get my tits out and when I didn’t proceed decided to call me a slag.”
One student, who wishes to remain anonymous, told SCAN about an incident that happened last year involving a group of men in a car.
“I was on my way to Barker House and wrongly dared to walk on the outskirts of campus, on the footpath next to the street. As I was a bit before the roundabout, this car with four guys slowed down and said something to me and laughed.”
“I don’t know what they said because I had my earphones in so I didn’t understand anything. I didn’t really care too much because that happens to me constantly. The worst is that when I was in front of the LEC building, that same car drove past me again and pulled over just in front of me.”
“I ran for my life and didn’t dare walk in the outskirts months after that […] For weeks afterward, I felt very panicky every time I saw a small white car similar to that one.”
Although the feeling unsafe in public places does not restrict itself to gender, with 6 out of 10 people feeling unsafe during the day outside, according to Census data, catcalling and other forms of sexual harassment are statistically more likely to occur towards female-presenting persons.
Modern Intimacy, a group therapy practice founded by renowned Psychologist and Sex Therapist Dr. Kate Balestrieri, the effects of catcalling can be harmful. “Self-objectification can make women feel shame and anxiety around their appearance. Additionally, self-objectification is linked to poor mental health outcomes including depressive symptoms ad disordered eating.”
In response, the University has stated:
“We are pleased that the incident described in the article was dealt wit swiftly. Colleagues who have responsibility for the contract works are aware and will follow up to ensure good behaviour”.
“We encourage students to report harassment on campus, verbal or otherwise. The wellbeing team aim to respond within a day and reports can be anonymous via https://portal.lancaser.ac.uk/ask/report/ “.