Over 200 Attend Protect Warwick Women’s Sit-In
*Warning: this article contains references to sexual assault*
The student group ‘Protect Warwick Women’ have organised a protest starting 18 March due to women feeling more fearful about sexual assault on the Warwick University campus. The protest comes as many universities have failed to adopt stringent sexual safety practices. There has been a growth in conversations with regards to women’s safety as a result of the death of Sarah Everard. As such, the time is ripe for protests like this and the need for women’s safety is garnering the media attention that it deserves. Yet it appears as though universities have been protecting their reputation rather than looking at the very real issue of sexual harassment on their campuses. With these problems continuing, groups like Protect Warwick Women have grown and reflect the national conversation on women’s safety in the UK.
When looking at the history that Warwick University has had in terms of sexual assault, there have been continuous examples in the media. One case that gained media attention was the ‘rape chat’ scandal of 2019. As reported by the BBC, one message read “rape the whole flat to teach them a lesson” alongside further explicit messages regarding abducting a student and chaining her to the bed. The group discussed specific names, and, while it was termed a ‘lads’ chat’, one woman who had read the comments feared facing the men again, suffering from panic attacks as a result. While one man deemed the chat to be ‘just how lads are’, the conversation was reported to the University. There were bans from the university for five of the men in the group chat, but some had their ban time reduced after they appealed. Despite an apology from Warwick, the damage was already done.
With instances like the ‘rape chat’, alongside the prolific issue of sexual assault at Warwick University, Protect Warwick Women wish to have the university deal with how unsafe women feel on campus. Instances of casual sexism seem rife where, as the group highlight, “men feel entitled to quite plainly objectify women”. Likewise, examples of male friendship groups bragging about how many girls they can get with, predatory behaviour, and catcalling are regular occurrences. These examples chime in with the prevalence of toxic lad culture in British universities that a 2012 report by the NUS uncovered.
The group told The New Feminist that issues surrounding sexual assault have continued in the university for years, but with insufficient action being taken to make women feel safer on campus, they still feel ignored by the university. The group focus on having unconditional, friendly support to students. They say that women at the Warwick campus feel objectified, with men feeling entitled to touch and advance on women without consent.
On the topic of sexual assault, a spokesperson from the group told us that “the university takes minimal action when cases are reported, but they do little to ensure the general, active safety of women”. As such, their demands are as follows:
- Review staff training on preventing and managing sexual assault.
- University contributions to The Survivors Trust on a yearly basis and train Nightline to be a Sexual Assault crisis centre.
- Prioritisation of women’s safety over the reputation of the university and abusers.
- An independent student union adviser with proper training and more power to the women’s officer.
- Reassessment of the Student Sexual Misconduct Policy.
- Finally, there are demands to individuals – to call out friends’ behaviours and education on sexual assault.
The group has organised a meeting with the University for Monday 22nd March. The University put out a message as featured on Coventry Live, stating that they believe that sexual misconduct will not be tolerated. However, Protect Warwick Women are awaiting the University’s reply on whether they will meet their demands or not- and they claim the ‘sit-in’ will not end until the university recognises them and meets their demands.
As of 10am on the 27th of March, the group have been sat for 168+ hours in and are still going strong. You can follow their actions on the Protect Warwick Women Twitter account @warwickPWW. The group will continue their sit-in until they are confident that Warwick University will meet their demands. In the meantime, we stand in solidarity with their actions and all those who wish to tackle sexual assault.
BBC Article: Inside the Warwick University ‘rape chat’ scandal https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-48366835
Coventry Live: Warwick University students plan sit-in over safety of women on campus https://www.coventrytelegraph.net/news/coventry-news/warwick-university-students-plan-sit-20196955