Trigger Warning: This article discusses and depicts sexual harassment.
Does sexual harassment happen on campuses? In 2017, IGNITE, in collaboration with the Feminist Society, launched a survey to uncover some dark secrets from students and campus staff from all across Malaysia… and the results were shocking. This is part two of IGNITE’s Sexual Harassment & The Culture Of Misogyny On Campus series.
Following from our previous article, we received 493 responses from UNMC out of 762. And this is what they said: 17% of female respondents said they have been sexually harassed or assaulted on campus.
54% of them said they have been sexually harassed/ assaulted off campus.
More than 3 out of 4 respondents felt that the university could be doing more to address sexual harassment/ assault issues.
Generally, the procedure for cases of sexual harassment is to approach the security office and make a complaint. However, oftentimes the burden of proof is on the victims and very often these incidents happen in circumstances where there are no witnesses or recording devices, such as in the privacy of students’ room.
In terms of whether there is a proper procedure set in place by the University to deal with sexual harassment is still a mystery. A simple Google search from the Core turned up nothing. However doing a Google search for our sister UK campus turned up their page on “Let’s be Clear on Consent“, a self-help page. They also had a page which talked openly about sex, contraception and LGBT issues that directed people to relevant authorities and help centres.
Granted, the UK has a much more open culture about these issues compared to Malaysia therefore it may seem more permissible to have such information openly available on their website. However personal safety in these cases is an important issue and UNMC as an arguably more progressive university in Malaysia should have more open policies and awareness programs on this. An indication of concern over the issue would be how many messages are sent out by university management regarding it. A simple search through this writer’s email using the key word ‘sex’ showed zero emails sent out on this issue since 2016. A search of ‘fees’ on the other hand, yielded 24** emails regarding university fees in the same period.
In an interview with Arlene*, someone who experienced sexual harassment in UNMC, she illustrated a major issue:
One night, I was in my room, and I heard a knock. I opened the door, thinking it was a friend of mine, but it was this guy I knew through friends (someone had told him my room number). He came in and just laid on my bed. I was really scared, and I texted my friend to ask her to come over. He tried to make conversation, but I was too shocked by his presence to be able to answer him. My friend fortunately came in and told him that we had an assignment to complete, and he left my room.
The next night, he came back. I told him that I needed to sleep (this was at 3 a. m.). Two weeks later, I was studying at Radius, and he saw me and came over and put his face right in front of mine. He had been pestering me to kiss him for a while now. I got so fed up, I went to find a security guard. I tried explaining my situation to the guard, but he didn’t seem to understand a single word I said.
In the end, I had to go to a male friend’s room to get help as this guy was literally running after me, trying to get me to kiss him.
Most of our security guards are unable to communicate with students due to the language barrier and this is a significant problem in case something happens on campus. Our security guards are not empowered to handle such sensitive issues. There is a 24/7 number for our Security Control room where presumably someone with a knowledge of the local languages is stationed: 03-8924 8777. However, in the case that a student is caught in a situation, calling a number and waiting for a response or action (assuming someone picks up the phone immediately, which, as we have experienced, is not always the case) could be quite impractical.
However, our interviewee’s narrative also brings up another issue, that of the perception of men that they have the right to pursue women (and even other men sometimes) regardless of a lack of consent.
Changing Perceptions of Sexual Harassment & Assault in UNMC
To test people’s thoughts on such issues, we showed them Donald Trump’s now infamous quote:
Trump’s statement is a classic example of someone who does not believe or understand the concept of consent and obviously believes that women are inferior objects to be used by him as he pleases.
This is how respondents across all campuses felt about this statement:
Unfortunately a large proportion of individuals felt that this was an acceptable sentiment to feel – which contributes to the toxic perception that women are nothing more than objects. It was sad to see that even women were okay with this.
Hopefully the university can step up its initiatives to tackle both safety as well as the harmful perceptions people have towards ideas of consent and objectification of women.
*Names have been changed to protect privacy.
**Numbers should be taken as approximate, not exact.
By Lhavanya DL
Featured image obtained from British Council
NEXT WEEK: We discuss the concepts of consent and modesty.