Sex Survey

Sexual assault is never a joke, even in your group chats

Whilst this issue of Concrete is certainly a fun one to create, write and read it is equally important we discuss the negatives around the “sex” and, importantly, our vocal relationship with “sex” or how “sex” is discussed in our society, and particularly in the University Society.

Warwick, Derby, Durham, Coventry and Sheffield universities have all seen incidents of “leaked” group chats which discuss “sex” but more particularly women, women’s bodies and women’s autonomy. Whilst the quotations could come thick and fast from all these incidents, from wearing high-vis on a bar crawl scrawled on with “I love r*pe” to “let the boys hide in secret locations to watch”, a common denominator in all these chats are jokes about sexual assault. Perhaps, most explicitly stated by those involved in the widely reported Warwick group chat.

These incidents, unfortunately and regrettably, went over my head at the time of their media circulation, until I was alerted that a UEA meme page had posted a story questioning “If something is not intended for the public to see, should it be able to be used against them?” and then going on to explain,

“I think the vast majority of people our age would be lying if they claim they have never been part of a group chat where utterly horrendous stuff has been said… But obviously that horrendous stuff is meant for people who know their sense of humour and understand the context as it was said in PRIVATE…The best way to approach these issues is to look at the context”

This was hard for me to compute for a second and then I got angry, really angry, and then sad, really sad.

No group chat, message, photo, video or voice note is private or secure – fact. Sending an electronic communication of any sorts that discloses “matter that is grossly offensive or of an indecent, obscene or menacing character” can be brought forward in a UK court, and you can be ultimately charged on its contents (see the UK Communications Act 2003, Section 127 1A).

But in a recent (2018) revision of the CPS Guidelines on prosecution, there have been so notable introductions. Firstly, Section 54 “Social Media Hate Crime Offences” and Section 47-48 “Social Media VAWG Offences” – or to you and me “Violence Against Women and Girls.”

Is this an unintended warning to some? I’d hope not but Maybe. 

The points and arguments stated by the admin of the meme page illustrated the issue at hand, beginning with the “horrendous stuff”, to talking about “Sense of humour” and ending with the consideration of “context.” Yes, distasteful and non-PC jokes will undoubtedly be made within group chats but to assume “the vast majority of people our age” have joked about “horrendous stuff” (which we can only assume refers to the contents of the group chats in question) is nonsensical – no one who identifies as a woman jokes about partaking in sexual assault.

But now we start to get deeper into the issue, as raised by the admin – why are these jokes in people’s “sense of humour”? How has the “context” of such jokes made it into “humour”? In which “context” does it evolve that this is “acceptable”? What “context” do the jokes occur from? What is the “best way to approach” the issue of these jokes?

All questions that need answering, and need answering desperately.

This article can only be 600 words long so I cannot even try to provide the answers in writing but what I can try to do is question this – what community and atmosphere do we want to have at UEA? But also – will UEA be next? Is it unfortunately only a matter of time? 

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Freyja Elwood

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September 2021
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The University of East Anglia’s official student newspaper. Concrete is in print and online.

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