Speak Up, Speak Out

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RGU Student Union

She would laugh whilst she pushed me up against walls. She would pull bits of my hair out and show me the bits of the hair. She made me think I deserved it.”

 

In school Jasmine used art as a form of escapism. In order to avoid the thrashings from her toxic girlfriend. Jasmine says: “She wasn’t allowed in the art department because she didn’t take the subject. She couldn’t stop me from going there, it was about all she couldn’t stop me from doing.” Jasmine currently studies Contemporary Art at the Robert Gordon University.  Her work is a lens that focuses in on the female body. Her recent sculpture; ‘water droplet’ entertains the idea of a small ball of power. As well as the rippling impact power can have on its’ encounters and environment. The 19-year-old is confident in her work, but her body becomes overwhelmed with anxiety when it comes to speaking about the inspiration behind her art.

 

Jasmine is silent for a while but goes on to confess: “She used to text me at three o'clock in the morning and say, ‘I am going to slash all your tyres, I am going to throw rocks through your parents’ bedroom window.’

 

Jasmine sits down at her desk. She picks up a paint brush, her strokes are gentle, almost as if she is soothing the paper. Jasmine continues: “My ex-girlfriend would take my money off me. She threatened to kill my family. She used to say she was going to kill herself to make me go do things.”

 

A recent study from Strathclyde University has revealed that 1 in 4 students experience gender-based violence during their studies. The impact of abuse can negatively influence students’ performance even after the abuse comes to an end, the Scottish government declared that tackling this statistic is a “key priority”. It seems that our universities are fed up with a culture of silence and are taking their own stand to cut out the ill-treatment faced across the country.

 

The research was funded by Violence Against Women and Girls Justice Budget. The funding appeared around the same time as the tragic death of an Aberdeen University student. Who like Jasmine, was a victim of gender-based violence. In response to the loss, Robert Gordon University launched the ‘Speak Up Speak Out’ campaign.

 

We need to acknowledge that gender-based violence does happen on campus and to try to stop it”, said Sarah Pederson, Professor of Media at The Robert Gordon University.  Professor Pederson’s office is stapled with posters from feminist movements throughout history. Her desk is layered with books and spills from hot beverages.

 

For starters she says: “If I offered you a cup of tea and you said yes that’s absolutely fine. But then I go away to make it and you change your mind, well I don’t then hold you down and force it down your throat. Or have hysterics and sulk and shout at you or even hit you because you don’t want the tea anymore. It’s getting people to think If I wouldn’t do that about a cup of tea. Would I do that about sex?”

 

The campaign wants people to start to think about their behaviours. It also invites us to understand the term gender-based violence. The term constitutes a range of psychological and physical abuse. From rape, domestic abuse, stalking, coercive and controlling behaviours.

 

Professor Pederson continues: “We are talking about the violence of both men towards women, men towards men, and women towards women. That's why we say gender-based violence and some of the posters you will have seen are of single sex couples.”  

 

Further studies have revealed that 1 in 4 LGBT people also experience gender-based violence. Hate crime is widely reported but there is little to no light shed on abuse within the LGBT community.  For many it can be challenging to accept a woman as a perpetrator. Violence is often held by society to be a masculine trait. It is socially learnt that women are not capable of violence unlike men. Although, Jasmine knows otherwise from her past relationship that women who violate women is not just a case of a cat-fight. She says: “She kinda made me feel like I was in control of it, by saying ‘If you stopped doing this’, like seeing my horse or my friends. ‘Then I wouldn’t have to hit you’. So, then she would say ‘This is the last time I'm going to do it because you’re not going to do that again.’

 

Jasmine jumps out of her skin at the sound of a tutor strutting quickly in and out of the studio.  This girl is switched on automatic flight mode. As if she still has to hide from her ex-girlfriend. Taken aback, she takes a deep breath and continues: “She was in my brain. I was completely in love with her but scared to be alone with her. The whole time I was just thinking this is fine, this is completely normal. It was happening every day for months. I felt like I deserved it.” There has been a significant fight against gender-based violence. Robert Gordon university have created an online system where people who have had similar experiences can report abuse and also access the best possible support from a trained first responder.

 

Audrey Gibb, first responder, says: “Within RGU we have had the first responder scheme recently launched. The main drive of the scheme is support and advise on options for how people can take forward an issue around gender-based violence. That advice is accessible at a time when an individual need’s it the most.”

 

Other universities across Scotland are following in their footsteps. With every university in Scotland set to have a toolkit designed by Rape Crisis and Strathclyde University. This new strategy includes that every member of staff in higher and further education institutions have a card created by the study.  The card will ensure the correct information needed is on hand in case of emergency. The information includes direct support lines for students and staff.

 

Jasmine said: “Being at university and seeing the gender-based violence campaign, it made me realise the relationship was unhealthy. A first responder directed me to counselling and I am currently going through sessions.

 

Jasmine assumed that because she was with a woman that her experience was not valid. She still blames herself and wonders that if her partner was a boy that she would have realised sooner that what she was dealing with was abuse. She says: “When I go home, I'm still scared to drive past her in the street. But If somebody now told me it's my fault that they are hitting me in the face then I know that it’s wrong. Even if is another girl.”

 

For many like Jasmine it is too late to put prevention in place. Gender-based violence has become real for many people. With the education sector taking it upon itself to tackle the issue it is hoped that the violence will come to an end. Jasmine said: “I hope that the campaign continues to help other people who keep their stories a secret, to speak up against the silence.”

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