By Daniella Theis
Strath Union has launched the “Let’s Disclose it” campaign in light of this year’s international 16 Days of Action against gender-based violence movement.
16 Days of Action has been running since 1991. It starts on November 25 – the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women – and ends on Human Rights Day on 10 December, which marks the 71st anniversary of the proclamation of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.“Let’s Disclose it” will be focussing on the theme of disclosure. The campaign will ask for clear reporting pathways, campaign against non-disclosure and ‘silencing’ agreements, and will be encouraging people to disclose their experiences with gender-based and sexual violence wherever they can. Alongside the events organised for this year’s 16 Days of Action, an Instagram account using the platform handle @letsdiscloseit has been created to share people’s stories and provide an online presence for the campaign.
Strath Union’s Vice President of Inclusion Rachel Cairns played an active part in organising last year’s campaign, which saw members of Strathclyde students and staff release an open letter each day for 16 days to detail the extent of sexual discrimination at the University. Speaking to the Strathclyde Telegraph Cairns remarked that she looks forward to the campaign every year and that last year’s campaign – while bringing successes such as an improvement to Strathclyde’s ‘Report & Support’ system – left her feeling with “more of a hunger for change.” She explained:
“Last year was one of my proudest moments. People were saying they trust me with their most vulnerable and personal experiences and it means so much. It also makes me want to change things. People shouldn’t have to come to me to talk about their experiences with sexual violence – they shouldn’t have experienced it in the first place. That was a real-world impact. Seeing that it resonated with people. It especially seemed to resonate with students and staff around Strathclyde. It left me feeling like I am going to keep shouting until things change. That’s where we are now a year later. I am still here, and I am still shouting.”
This year’s disclosure-themed campaign comes less than a month after the University shared the results of an inquiry held into its handling of past complaints of sexual misconduct against Kevin O’Gorman. O’Gorman was a former staff member who was convicted on sixteen counts of committing acts of sexual assault on students, while a lecturer at Strathclyde and Heriot-Watt universities between 2006 and 2014.
“We need to see a properly funded ‘Report & Support’ system. We need to see support for students,” Cairns said: “What we do not need to see is an eighty-something page report of Strathclyde not taking sexual violence seriously like we did at the start of this month. You have to be believed and accepted when you share your experiences. So, we are focusing on disclosure. Victims of sexual violence should not be silenced,” she added: “In addition perpetrators of sexual violence should not be allowed to just move around and commit sexual violence again. That was another thing I got from the O’Gorman report”
One of the campaign’s aims is the creation of a safe environment at Strathclyde and beyond so that survivors of sexual violence can better come forward and disclose their experiences. “The fear of not being believed is founded,” Cairns explained: “It is rooted in the fact that historically people haven’t been believed. I believe it is a responsibility of the University to show people they will be believed and that they’ll deal with sexual assault and harassment in a responsible and trauma-informed way. The only way you can do that is by taking matters of assault and harassment very seriously. Ultimately not allowing it to happen again.”
“I have issues with the culture of silence created around sexual violence. I just wish people would feel more comfortable to come forward and speak about their experiences. The longer we don’t speak up, the longer we permit it to happen. Your university should be an environment in which you feel comfortable that when you come forward you will be believed. I don’t want to make 16 Days all about Strathclyde because this is a problem that everywhere has. I think disclosure is an important part of higher education and for Strathclyde in particular. I hope 16 Days of Action has some long-lasting sector-wide impact.”
Due to Covid-19 most events will be held in an online environment and include an online banner-making workshop, as well as the Fight For the Night event that usually sees people marching through the streets of Glasgow protesting for safer streets. Last year’s protest saw more than 400 people join in, but Cairns believes that despite having the event online, the impact can still be beneficial. She said:
“In 2020 the online space is public space. If we have 400 people plus going online and sharing their placards online, then that will reach the audience it normally reaches – if not even a larger audience. It gives you an opportunity to have a conversation with people like your neighbours about sexual violence. That conversation doesn’t usually come up. Sexual violence isn’t small talk. It’s a conversation starter to start having these conversations outside of just activism spaces and make them everyday conversations.”
Anyone seeking assistance or guidance after experiencing sexual assault is urged to contact Strath Union for assistance and signposting to services.
Other resources are:
Strathclyde Report & Support: https://www.strath.ac.uk/studywithus/strathlife/reportsupport
Rape Crisis Scotland
The Rosey Project
The Emily Test