** TW: Domestic Abuse, Sexual Harassment and Sexual Assault **
Domestic services have been drastically affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. A report by Women’s Aid titled ‘A Perfect Storm’ details the extent of this. 61% of respondents said, “the abuse had worsened” and 68% of respondents said, “they felt they had no one to turn to during lockdown”. Women’s Aid Chief Executive Nicki Norman explained how “women’s domestic abuse support services were already facing a funding crisis when the pandemic hit. They had little or no financial resilience to meet the unprecedented challenges posed by COVID-19”, and she went on to state “at a time when public services are diverted by COVID-19, the need for specialist domestic abuse services has never been more critical”.
During RAZZ’s SHAG Week, Maggie John had the wonderful opportunity to speak to Campaign Manager, Lucy Wade, and Publicity Officer, Hannah Seeckts, from the anti-sexual harassment campaign Recognise RED. Their discussion covered the incredible work that Recognise RED do and how their campaign, and sexual assault services more broadly, have been affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. The interview follows:
Lucy’s responses are in normal text, and Hannah’s responses are italicised.
For those who do not know, what is Recognise RED about?
Recognise RED was set up by a group of students during the 2018 Grand Challenges, following the ‘Me Too movement’ but they found that there wasn’t enough conversation on campus about sexual harassment and sexual assault. They wanted to create a space where we were talking about it and teaching people how to be active bystanders. It’s important to have an awareness-based campaign. Because there is so much sexual harassment on university campuses, it’s an important space to have.
What is your role and why did you get involved with Recognise RED?
I am one of two Publicity Officers and I joined the campaign this year. I think with any issue, it’s really important that you create conversation around it.
Lucy: I started as General Secretary in my second year at University and now I’m the Campaign Manager. I joined because you see how sexual harassment affects yourself and so many of your peers. Sexual assault can be very isolating for survivors and I think the campaign can help to alleviate that.
What work have Recognise RED done?
Last year, we created a podcast which is ran by one of the co-founders and his year. We’ve been focusing on creating a website and we now have people sending in relevant articles amongst other things.
A lot of our more recent work has been to do with online campaigns. For the United Nation’s 16 days of Activism against Gender Based Violence, we did a social media campaign where we paired up with other societies and campaigns that are linked to the University and talked about how gender-based violence has affected each different sector. For Sexual Violence and Sexual Assault awareness week, we did some myth-busting posts on common misconceptions about sexual assault and what the case actually is.
How has your work been affected by the pandemic? Do you think it has helped the campaign in anyway or hindered it?
We’ve mostly carried on as business as usual because we are primarily an online campaign. We’ve seen our engagement go up quite a lot, especially in this lockdown. We’ve been trying to keep increasing the conversation on social media and it seems to be working.
The person who runs our podcast (Abigail Hartshorn) has found that you can find more people willing to do podcasts online. We’ve had some really interesting guests, like the writer of Sex Education. It has helped in a way.
How do you think the podcast has helped raise awareness for the campaign?
I think the podcast has made the conversations more accessible. It’s a sensitive topic and the podcast is an accessible and enjoyable way to question the norms that we’ve accepted.
How has the pandemic affected domestic abuse services?
I’ve read some articles which say it’s a “perfect storm” of increased demand and reduced service abilities. Victims are far more isolated and it’s much easier for their perpetrators to control their movements. They don’t have reasonable excuses to leave the house anymore. According to the report by Women’s Aid, there’s a 40% reduction in the number of refuge vacancies in England compared to even the beginning of the pandemic. It’s a tragic combination of factors.
Why is there still so much taboo around sexual assault?
It’s a tricky question. Partly, that it’s a crime and an issue that thrives off silence. As a society, we haven’t been equipped to talk about sexual assault. If you have experienced it, discussing it can feel scary and if you haven’t experienced it, you’re worried you’re going to trip up. When victims are shamed and made to feel guilty, no one’s going to want to talk about it. Also, the majority of sexual assault cases are committed by someone known to the victim. To put that label onto someone you know is difficult. There are all these structural factors which make it very tricky for survivors to speak up. We have to encourage the conversation.
There’s a snowball effect. The more people talk about it, the more people who have experienced these things will feel less alone. We have a SurveyMonkey so people can submit their stories anonymously and it’s a good way for people to speak out and to know that they’re not alone. Increasing the conversation is so important.
Who can people reach out to if they’ve been affected by sexual harassment?
As a campaign, we really focus on not pushing people to report. SARCs (Sexual Assault Referral Centres) are really good. They offer medical, practical, and emotional support. Sharing your stories anonymously can help you feel that you’ve got a weight off your chest. Nightline are really good people to go to if you feel isolated. Sexual assault and sexual harassment is different for everyone.
– Maggie John
If you feel as though you have been affected by any form of harassment, verbal offence, physical force, emotional blackmail or aggression, then please reach out. You can call the university nightlife service on 01392724000, or estate patrol on 01392723999. Call 112 if you want to report a crime, or 999 if you’re in immediate danger. To talk to rape crisis then call 0808 802 9999, Women’s Aid Federation 0808 2000 247, or 02035983898 for Suvivors UK, which offers male, trans, and non-binary victim support.
Below are some other useful services and resources:
Mind, Devon Rape Crisis, Survivors UK (for men, trans, and non-binary), Rape Crisis England & Wales (for women and girls), One in Four (offers advocacy and counselling services for victims), Galop (for LGBTQ+ survivors of hate crime, domestic abuse and sexual violence), Imkaan (women’s organisation dedicated to addressing violence against Black and minoritized women).
Featured Image Source: Recognise RED