COLUMN: Why we must put a stop to public sexual harassment

Eva Carroll

Eva Carroll is the higher education ambassador at the University of Cambridge for the Our Streets Now nationwide campaign to end public sexual harassment. - Credit: OUR STREETS NOW

It is a privilege to wake up in Cambridge every day.

To bask (on a lucky day) in the sun, watching it flow through and light the beautiful libraries, gardens, the city.

I love to take a stroll along King`s Parade, thinking about my work, what I will do with my friends later- only to be interrupted by a man shouting “I`d love to have a go on that”.

Eva Carroll

Eva Carroll is the higher education ambassador at the University of Cambridge for the Our Streets Now nationwide campaign to end public sexual harassment. - Credit: OUR STREETS NOW

I am harassed so often that it makes me think twice about going for that stroll.

When I imagine Cambridge, I have a mental picture of every street corner, every accommodation block, every shop where I have been objectified and terrified.

Along with 84% of women students and other marginalised genders, my education in Cambridge is tainted by the fear of Public Sexual Harassment (PSH).

Intersectionality means that ableism, homophobia, racism, transphobia and all other forms of discrimination effect the way in which women and girls experience this violence.

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However, there is one common denominator: PSH is carried out because of gender discrimination and/or power dynamics.

It perpetuates a culture that disregards historically vulnerable groups of people, diminishing their sense of self-worth and denying equal access to public space.

Despite earning ourselves a rightful place to study at one of the top five universities in the entire world, we must endure relentless objectification by men which attempts to diminish our self-worth.

We are reduced to our bodies; a material thing to be stared at, remarked upon and harassed by men.

Every woman knows that look. That look which makes the hairs on your arms stand on end and your legs feel as though they will give way beneath you.

That look of a man`s eyes wandering over your body in public spaces, like it is something for them to consume.

That look terrifies us and let me tell you why: it exists on a pyramid of violence against women and girls.

The same cultural norms that permit ownership over women`s bodies in public spaces are the foundation for more serious crimes such as rape and murder higher up the pyramid.

As we have seen with the death of Sarah Everard, it exists with the very real threat of escalation.

We are terrified every time of that look turning into something much more sinister and moving up the pyramid.

 Our Streets Now nationwide campaign

The Our Streets Now nationwide campaign to end public sexual harassment. This is their poster - Credit: OUR STREETS NOW

The University of Cambridge has a critical role to play in dismantling this misogynistic structure.

It is a large, wealthy, prestigious institution whose influence and ability cannot be understated.

It has a duty of care to the women who have shared their experiences in whispers with friends in their rooms and lined the streets shouting about the abuse we suffer.

The Our Streets Now Higher Education Ambassadors are campaigning to get Cambridge to tackle this toxic culture and build a safer, more equal and enjoyable Cambridge for women.

The #StudentsNotObjects campaign is calling for change.

A nationwide movement spread across 17 UK universities, Our Streets Now aims to bring out students’ top three priorities for change. 

These are: raising awareness of the PSH, providing support for students and improving reporting platforms.

Spearheaded by Our Streets Now Ambassadors, these local initiatives will aim to start conversations about PSH with students, staff and the local population.

In response to HE institutions’ deafening silence about PSH, OSN Ambassadors will push universities to take responsibility for the harassment their students face, calling on them to ensure the safety of the entire student body.

The University of Cambridge can and should do more to tackle the misogyny which infiltrates the city and the institution.

We are asking for the following:

· To establish a clear and consistent zero tolerance policy

· Compulsory consent workshops and ongoing training for staff and students on the topic of PSH

· Well-funded, institution-wide awareness campaigns on the topic of PSH

· Work with local authorities and transport providers to reduce PSH locally

· Appointment of a full-time sexual assault and harassment advisor

Our Call to Action is achievable and would make its students feel safer.

We need the University of Cambridge to take a zero-tolerance approach to PSH, and we will not stop campaigning until that happens.

We have persevered. We have spoken. We are strong. We demand change