Give a little RESPECT  

Sally Patterson, Bristol Students’ Union elected officer for equality and liberation, has written today’s blog on the work to tackle sexual harassment and violence. 

As we mark 100 years since the first women gained the vote in the UK, it feels apt to celebrate the considerable progress made by our foremothers; contraception, safe abortions, the criminalisation of rape within marriage. Yet the reality is that we still have a long way to go.  

Sally Patterson stood outside in front of green plants
Sally Patterson, SU officer for equality and liberation

Sexual violence still exists in many forms in our culture – from cat calling, unwanted sexting, harassment and abusive relationships to sexual assault and rape – including within our University. Research commissioned by Bristol SU at the end of the last academic year explored students’ relationships, sex lives, experiences of sexual health services and experiences of harassment and assault.   

Our ‘Let’s Talk About Sex’ research found that students arrive at University with a range of different experiences and levels of education.  Just 24% of student surveyed had received formal education around sexual assault and rape and 24% had received formal education on healthy relationships.   

Unfortunately, and perhaps unsurprisingly, our research mirrored the bleak picture at other universities: 52% of all Bristol students had experienced sexual harassment whilst studying, largely on a night out in a nightclub, bar or pub.  

The results from our research remind us that we have a long way to go until women and non-binary students are equal and safe at university. Drawing from these results, as well as previous research and anecdotal evidence, we have launched the RESPECT campaign this term. Bristol SU and the University will be collaborating on a campaign that promotes a welcoming, positive, supportive and safe environment for everyone.   

The response from students at the Welcome Fair was hugely positive: we had over 80 people sign-up to be ambassadors and gave out over 1,500 condoms and postcards with information.   

RESPECT is made up of seven themes; relationships, empowerment, safety, pleasure, equality, consent and trust. Real change requires appropriate support for people who have been affected, whilst also working to change a culture under which sexual violence prevails, thus preventing similar experiences from taking place in the future. The University and Students’ Union are committed to eradicating sexual violence in line with our Zero Tolerance Pledges. Now it is up to all of us to make this a reality.