** Content Warning: Discussions of rape culture, sexual harassment and violence **
The death of Sarah Everard sent shockwaves across the nation; the murder of an innocent young woman, whilst she walked home, highlighting not only the absence of measures to protect women but also the extent of male inflicted sexual violence across the UK. Closer to home, the sexual assault of two female students on campus cast a light on the problem of sexual violence towards women and the existence of rape culture within Exeter itself.
In response to these two tragic events, third year student Islay Morgan set up Stoll Mates Exeter; a night watch where those feeling vulnerable can request volunteers to walk them home after a night out. Stroll Mates was established in affiliation with Urban Angels Exeter; a platform, created by Talisker Alcobia Cornford, that allows women to share experiences of sexual assault, report suspicious activity and generate city wide initiatives to make Exeter safer.
The impetus behind Stroll Mates, Islay tells me, is that “no student ever has to walk home alone”. She explained the “sad reality is that we live in a world where this is a problem which prevails, and university towns are certainly not an exception to this. It is a crisis which needs to be urgently addressed in all aspects of society”.
Finding the source of the sexual assault “problem”, as Islay calls it, is not straightforward. “I think it’s a lot to do with increased social pressures, and the presence of alcohol and drugs. Beyond this, I think there is a deep rooted ‘Lad culture’ in many male dominated societies, which comes with a dangerous lack of accountability for the attackers”.
Stroll Mates is set for launch next term and has been thoroughly thought out. “We are currently in the process of finalising our safeguarding ideas, to ensure the greatest possible safety for the Stroll Mates and the Strollers alike. These include volunteers being vetted, as well as being provided with training on active listening and general safeguarding. They will also be provided with a panic alarm and an ID card, which they will present to the person they are collecting upon arrival (who will have received a photo of the Stroll Mates in advance). On top of this, a check-in system will be utilised so it is recorded when the Stroll Mates have dropped off the Stroller, from both parties. We are also looking into an opt-in system when individuals first sign up to the scheme”.
Whilst student-led initiatives seem to be widespread – Stroll Mates is currently in talks to set up affiliated groups in Leeds and Glasgow – Islay calls for Universities to acknowledge the issue of sexual assault as a crisis. “It’s appalling that the Sarah Everard case had to be at the front of everyone’s minds in order to be considered as an issue that needs addressing”. Stroll Mates has been in touch with University of Exeter and hopes that it will get on board by promoting the scheme to maximise its visibility and providing panic alarms to volunteers. Further that this, the joint crisis we are all facing has led to mounting calls for greater University proactivity, with Islay advising that talks in Fresher’s Week, on topics such as consent and responsible drinking, need become a mandatory norm.
Stroll Mates may exist, but as Islay notes this is “only the very start and there is much more that needs to be done in order for women everywhere to feel safe”. In the meantime, she hopes that women will continue to share their stories, uplift one another and call out rape culture where it exists.
– Lottie McGrath
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’s 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.
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: Stroll Mates Exeter