#beHeard explores Lancaster’s response to sexual harrasment claims

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Lancaster University’s Women+ Forum launched a campaign to voice the experiences of survivors of sexual assault. SCAN spoke to the founder of the campaign, Alex Brock, about #BeHeard and its potential impact for students who may have previously been unwilling to share their stories.

As a response to the #MeToo hashtag started by Tarana Burke a few months ago, #beHeard encourages Lancaster University students to share their stories about sexual harassment. In the space of a week, around 85 stories were sent by survivors and posted across social media through the colleges’ Instagram, Twitter and Facebook.

The scale of the issue in wider society was highlighted by the #MeToo Campaign, in which strings of high profile men and women and the public shared their experiences of sexual misconduct. Actress Alyssa Milano, who encouraged the sharing of the hashtag, tweeted, “If all the women who have been sexually harassed or assaulted wrote ‘Me too.’ as a status, we might give people a sense of the magnitude of the problem.” A week after the campaign started, 1.7 million tweets contained the hashtag and Facebook reported that 45% of American users have friends who have posted #MeToo.

A freedom of information request revealed that there have been fewer than five reports of sexual harassment in the university staff over the last two years. The University refused to give the numbers allegations of sexual harassment made within the student body, stating that the time required would have exceeded the maximum 18 hours of staff time that freedom of information requests can demand. However it encouraged students to go to the Union or to their College advisers.

Universities are far from immune to the sexual harassment scandal sweeping the world. In the last six years, over 300 allegations against academic and non-academic staff were made in British universities according to the Guardian. Just as serious is the issue of students who fail to come through with complaints by fear of the consequences. #beHeard can thus help victims have a voice and tackle this taboo.The University has recently introduced a reporting app, Unisafe, to allow for anonymous reporting, and has stated it proactively encourages students to disclose incidents of this nature so there can be a swift response.

The campaign follows widespread media coverage of accusations of sexual assault in Hollywood, notably those made against film producer Harvey Weinstein. Around 80 women including Cara Delevingne, Angelina Jolie and Rose McGowan came forward reporting misconduct or assault after initial allegations were published in the New York Times in October.

If you would like to share your own story, contact the Women+ Forum or use the #BeHeard hashtag on social media. Support for those affected by the topics discussed in this article is available from colleges and the Student’s Union.