A reflection on how SOAS relegates rape (trigger warning)
In April this year I was raped. I am not sure how it happened. No, I didn’t lead him on. I wasn’t too drunk. I wasn’t dressed in a provocative manner. Truth be told, I don’t have a Police Report to prove I was raped, so I suppose I am not eligible for any extenuating circumstances. An email from my doctor won’t suffice either, I guess. This isn’t an arbitrary ramble, these are the answers to the questions I had to answer after that horrific incident.
In retrospect, I always expected SOAS to be the most adept university at dealing with rape. There is such healthy feminist discourse at the school, and seeming non-tolerance of practices such as victim-blaming. You can imagine my surprise when the Economics Department declined my request for mitigating circumstances, claiming I had provided “insufficient evidence.”
Everyone believes, hopes, maybe naively that it will never happen to them and, if on that off-chance it does, the institutions and friends we depend on will be there to support us. Personally, I have great friends. The sort that are the flag wavers of feminism, who live to fight theoretical battles with feminists and sexists alike. But rape isn’t a theoretical battle. It’s a painful kind of numbness that leading thinkers from Germaine Greer to nobodies such as myself have few words for. Rape, in place of feminist history in a world that existed before my time, has lived memories. Rape, rather than screaming at obtuse men for groping your arse, leaves you screaming at yourself for allowing something you couldn’t contemplate, to happen. But my friends, the sort who fly-in feminist speakers from abroad, failed to barely jump to my emotional rescue. Maybe it was because it was exam term. But they didn’t have to disappear. This is SOAS afterall?
But then again the institution also failed me. Talking about rape is difficult. Proving it to a bunch of people, predominantly male, whom you have never met, is nigh on impossible. Especially, if the first thought that came to your mind after this random stranger clambered off of you wasn’t to call the police and file a report. Maybe it should have been. It would have saved me the stress of sitting exams that I expected to fail, but had to sit to save any long term future career prospects. However, I shouldn’t have had to make, or even contemplate that choice. My doctor’s note should have been enough.
SOAS is a place that beyond the obvious bouts of corporatism, stands for its students. We have a say in how it’s run, either by committee, or through pure strength of will. So I am saddened, and more than a little surprised, that its response to rape was little different from the outside world, may be substantially worse. In fact, I can’t imagine any of my previous employers whom if I told that I had been raped and in turn produced a doctors note, forcing me to turn up at work for the near future. Would these academics force a colleague to meet the same standards in order to obtain compassionate/sick leave? I doubt it.
This issue is still raw. It was recent. Forgive me a moment, for my lack of coherence whilst I try to find my way…
Freshers, returning students, we aren’t here just to study. We aren’t just here to see who can shout loudest about the patriarchy, marxism or any other cause we pick up on a stall which foists copious amounts of sick-inducing-sweets upon us during the Fair. The memories we create of a place can be dictated by how we treat one another, not only the experiences that we shared or maybe built ourselves but also the ones we couldn’t feel or share because they belonged to others. These can be the memories we empathised with.
So please, when you see a friend who is too drunk to stand, help them home. If your pal is imposing unwanted physical attention on someone, tell them to stop…
I don’t want SOAS to be just an idea, a system of beliefs that are never tangible beyond the worlds we create in our drug-induced comas on Jam nights. Preferably, I would like friends who don’t vanish because it’s exam term and causes are only worth fighting when there is nothing to lose. I want a compassionate and sensitive staff that don’t want me to prove my infallibility by doing everything that stops short of a personal examination in front of them. I want the SOAS we were sold.
If you feel affected by the content of this article, please contact a counselor at your nearest sexual health clinic or you can contact the Rape Crisis free helpline on 0808 802 9999 www.rapecrisis.org.uk
UPDATE: Statement from SOAS
“SOAS takes these matters very seriously and this issue is currently being investigated by the School. Should any students require help, advice or support for any issue affecting their wellbeing, support is available through Student Advice and Wellbeing: https://www.soas.