#GirlsNightIn on Campus

Rebels Thomas Morgan takes a look at the #GirlsNightIn movement and how the SU is supporting female students. As well as an interview with Essex women’s networks women’s officer Marina Cusi Sanchez

On Thursday, 28th October, students at the University of Essex took part in a #Girlsnightin event, where female students are boycotting nightclubs, bars and other venues to highlight the issue of the spike epidemic and women’s safety and sexual harassment in media.

Essex’ Sub Zero has shown solidarity by closing its doors for business on Wednesday 27th.

The Girls night in venue has drawn support from across the country, with many University students and people showing support for the movement by boycotting venues such as Clubs, pubs and bars for one night.

This issue has been amplified in light of the horrific murders of Sarah Everard and Sabina Nessa and has triggered national conversations around Women’s safety.

According to a Freedom of Information Act survey, investigations into spiking has more than doubled in the last three years, with conviction rates remaining low.

Research has also found that 98% of victims did not go to the police. Home Secretary Priti Patel has requested an urgent update on the scale of the problem, specifically around spiking.

We have spoken to many Essex students who expressed their support for the movement; however, some highlighted some issues they still feel need addressing concerning safety on Campus.

One Essex student told us, “Essex uni isn’t doing enough in terms of safety. The surge in spiking has just caused commercial awareness on what we as women already knew, and we aren’t safe. For example, why are there no lights when walking to quays from off-campus? It’s so scary, and it stops me from joining societies cause I know I’ll have to do that walk by myself.”

Another student said, “initially, it was a great idea for a campaign but soon turned hypocritical as people who had been talking about boycotting clubs still went clubbing on the dates. I think the uni needs to hire security that won’t do a half-arsed search at the entrance.”

Many students we spoke to consistently brought the issue of security at venues around campus, such as Sub Zero. The protection provided for media on campus such as sub-zero is recruited externally. We have asked the SU for a comment regarding this, and their response reads as follows.

Last year we moved to a new security supplier, who we work with to promote a friendly atmosphere at Sub Zero, at the same time as enforcing a clear Zero tolerance policy for any form of harassment, discrimination or anti social behaviour.

We scan everyone entering Sub Zero with an electronic wand to detect any banned metal items and we also conduct random searches at the door to keep everyone safe”

Spokesperson for Essex’ Student Union

Spiking is a criminal offence that can result in 10 years in prison; however, campaigners argue many incidents go unreported due to stigma. This comes in the wake of the Sarah Everad case, which highlighted the concern many women have around safety and trust in the authorities and institutions meant to protect them.

Many campaigners feel the issue should move from a position of how victims can take precautions; to creating a hostile environment for perpetrators.

Rebels Thomas Morgan spoke to the Essex Student Unions Women’s Officer Marina about why the SU is getting involved and raising awareness, especially in the wake of the spiking epidemic.

TM – How is the Women’s Office at Essex supporting the Girls night?

Marina – “we organised an event, during the boycott on the 28th, the women’s Office done a cinema event in moa, we organised the event joint with women’s officers across all campuses and done it online so people feel protected as we are aware of people being out late on campus, we are trying to shift the narrative from victim-blaming to perpetrator training”.

Thomas Morgan interviewing Womens Officer Marina Cusi Sanchez, outside the Sillberad Building on campus.

TM -How important do you feel it is to highlight concerns on campus around the safety of female students?

Marina – “It’s a priority, as a women’s officer this is why I got into this role if you don’t have safety and wellbeing …well it’s such a basic human right to have safety and it’s my number 1 priority as your Women’s Officer”

TM– What support does the SU offer to female students who may have experienced spiking or sexual assault, or are concerned about their safety on campus?

Marina – “Since I arrived in my first year I wanted the uni to provide more, I am happy at the progress we have made this year, however, it won’t be fixed permanently, we now have Free spiking tests in sub-zero and other venues on campus, and Protective cling film for drinks at request

“We also have a scheme called ask for angela, if anyone feels unsafe you can go to any of the staff at SU sub-zero anywhere top bar, in any of our venues they will contact a taxi to bring you home, keyword angela so if in danger no suspicion.

“Wellbeing ambassadors,(trained students wearing bright yellow t-shirts) and they are there to help, can bring you to base if you are drunk and they will take care of you, charge phone your phone, contact flatmate, and offer general support if needed”

“If anything happens tell them.., they have proper code in their radio to communicate, they can stop lines outside clubs to find the perpetrator..”

“I am pushing for a campaign to stop perpetrators, We are in the works of setting up a campaign called ‘Purple points’, a tent that will be available on every night out, this may be permanent, it will be a first responder point for people who sexual harassment abuse, hate crime, they will help report, give mental support, providing free sanitary products, free condoms and other services”

“We also have a Report and support system if anything happens to you, be it sexual assault or hate crimes you can report it online or someone can do it on your behalf or anonymously and the university will open up an investigation and provide you with the support you need.”

TM– How can institutions such as universities, the police and the government do more to address women’s safety in venues, on University campuses and on the streets?

Marina – “First of all taking the complaint seriously, everything I hear from women is how they get dismissed, no action taken forward, no performative actions, actual legislation, investigating past to see what’s worked and what hasn’t, stick to the word of the zero-tolerance policy

TM– How important is it that this conversation around safety is inclusive of minorities?

Marina – “I think representation is very important, and to have people of colour in the team. When I created my women network I ensured we had non-binary and trans representation, and disabled, I am trying to get as many voices as I can, I always tell students please engage with me!”

Essex Student Union has provided Rebel with a statement outlining the steps they are taking to tackle this issue and reassure students of their safety on-campus venues. Part of the statement reads as follows.

“As a Students Union representing the welfare of 17,000 student members, we continue to campaign on safety and were vocal supporters of the Girls Night in movement and the changes it has pushed for nationally.

As an operator of our own student bars and venues, we also work incredibly hard to make sure that Essex students have the best, safest nights-out possible.

Were continuing on more improvements but we’ve already put in place a really comprehensive range of safety measures including….”

Spokesperson for Essex’ Student’s Union

The full outline of measures provided to us by the SU can be found on our Instagram @RebelEssex.

Thomas Morgan
tm19047@essex.ac.uk