TW: Rape, sexual assault

Amy reported a sexual assault to her college in December last year. More than a month later, she received a letter notifying her that her complaint had been taken to a disciplinary panel. She was never called to interview, and neither were the multiple people witness to the assault. In February, Amy received news that the college would take no further action in relation to her report, because she had chosen not to involve the police. Unsurprisingly, she was confused as to why it had taken nearly three months to reach this conclusion – and angry that at no point was she given the chance to provide testimony, evidence or witness statements.

Little support was offered to Amy in coping with her trauma of sexual violence. A member of the college’s welfare team discouraged her from making a formal report – she was told to keep the crime against her a secret, because she needed ‘to think about this man’s future and how this will impact him’. Most perpetrators of sexual assault know that they act with impunity. Only 1.7% of rapes reported in England and Wales are ever prosecuted. Meanwhile, it is estimated that one in three female students experience sexual harassment or violence while at university.

The world is not kind to survivors, and reporting can be an emotionally draining process. In this case, Amy was brave enough to bring her complaint to her college, and instead of being met with sympathy and concern, she was made to feel on trial herself. When there is so much at stake, emotionally and socially, survivors do not always feel safe filing a complaint with police. In seeking justice these survivors are betting on a losing dog. What is there to be done, when the very people meant to help will quite happily pay for their place by the side of the ring?

105 separate reports of sexual assault were made against Harvey Weinstein, the famous Hollywood great name-maker. On Monday 9th of March, he was sentenced to 23 years. He will almost certainly die in prison; a fate many feel he deserves. Weinstein and his legal team asserted that the allegations brought against him were false, pleading ‘not guilty’ to the very end. His ability to do so in the face of the evidence mounted against him shows that the Weinstein case is the exception to an antiquated rule. With time conditions and social pressures confounding the reporting process, our judicial systems are rigged against survivors from the very start.

Weinstein’s sentencing is a small victory. We can only hope that other known abusers in the public eye will be brought down with him soon. We have to remember that prolific offenders of this sort exist in our own lives too, as do their victims. Despite what Amy was told, accusations rarely ruin a name. As a society, we collectively jump at the chance to give the accused the benefit of doubt. Weinstein’s sentencing is just an exercise of the law’s arm that should take place far more regularly than it currently does. We are sold on a lie that if we choose to believe that justice for survivors isn’t possible. In order to make it so we have to acknowledge the hurdles facing survivors and the hoops that they are made to jump through, often to no avail.

We should celebrate Harvey Weinstein’s conviction, but we should also remember that it took us three years and countless appeals to get here. I am tired of hearing stories like Amy’s, and I’m angry that injustices like these are occurring on a daily basis. I couldn’t have agreed more when she told me that ‘people in charge are actively participating in rape culture’, and that ‘they are both incompetent and have dangerous backwards views’. 23 years is a long time to sit in prison – but the sentence is a drop in the ocean, compared with years that would have been dished out if not for the gross negligence of those with the power to act.