Breaking the Silence

Breaking the Silence

Cambridge prides itself on being a
leader – academically in terms of research, education. It has to be a social leader
as well tackling tough problems that are difficult for all institutions like
sexual harassment. And I think that the leadership of the university has to send
the right signals and has to be committed to directly addressing these
challenges. The community that we want at Cambridge is one that’s inclusive and
which is built on a foundation of mutual respect. So to achieve that we need
everybody in the community to be behind this exercise in” breaking the silence”
and not tolerating any form of sexual harassment. Colleges as residential
communities need to take the lead here it seems to me, both in providing an
atmosphere and a culture and a set of rules and regulations which leave every
member of the community clear about what their responsibilities are but also to
ensure that sexual harassment and misconduct are no longer taboo. That we can address these issues clearly, seriously to inspire confidence
in those victims of sexual harassment and misconduct that they will be
listened to when they come forward. I think if any student or a member of
staff has been affected by sexual misconduct of any kind, it’s vital that
they have confidence to come forward to realise that what they say will be taken
seriously. And there are people in the university who are trained to provide
support to them, to provide advice to them as to what they may wish to do next. If people are thinking about coming forward to talk about their experiences-
at the counselling service we listen to people and we believe them and we are
happy to talk through people’s experiences in a safe space and then
talk about the options that are available as well and our service is
completely confidential. So we encourage people to come forward and speak to us
if they can. We know that sexual harassment is one of
the most underreported of all offences. That’s true at Cambridge as it’s true in
most universities around the world. So if this campaign works there will be more
reporting, we can’t be uncomfortable with that. That is a necessary consequence of
bringing these cases to light. If ever there is an increase in reporting that’s
always a very positive sign. It is not a sign that there is an increase in sexual
harassment or assault, it is indicative of an increase in victims and survivors
confidence in the systems and processes around them to protect them and provide
them with support. Sexual misconduct is a difficult topic, only because it’s so
embedded in our society but difficult subjects are not unsolvable problems and
so I think a lot of people think that there’s nothing that they can do
because sexual misconduct happens on such a grand scale but one of the best
ways to challenge anything is to start small and to start in the spaces that
you are to tackle it. Nothing we may find institutionally difficult to do is ever
going to be harder than the experience of someone living with the consequences
and trauma of sexual harassment. We know that it’s not the experience
itself that’s important whether it’s a joke or a comment or something shared
online it’s the impact it has on other people that’s important and we don’t
always know how other people have responded to something or how it’s
affected them so it’s important for us to be mindful the our intention doesn’t
always make a difference to how other people will experience what we say or
what we do and I think it’s important for us to think about that. No matter how
brilliant you are and Cambridge colleges are full of brilliant people – nobody has
the right to act in such a way that the person who’s on the receiving end of
that act or comment or behaviour feels unsafe. It’s important to tackle sexual
harassment because it’s the right thing to do. Beyond that, if we don’t tackle sexual
harassment we’re going to lose out. People won’t be doing their best here,
some people may leave. So those aspirations to be excellent will be
undermined. One particular aspect of that that concerns me is the “leaky pipeline.”
There are the lots of reasons why women drop out along the way in their career, if
anything of that is to do with sexual harassment then we have to tackle it. If we don’t address sexual harassment seriously – I think that we have a chance
of losing some of the very, most talented members of our community who will feel
that they’re not really part of the community because they don’t feel safe.
And so if we want to ensure that Cambridge is a home for the very best
amongst us, then dealing with this issue directly and honestly is important. University should be one of the spaces where you feel like you can open
yourself up to new experiences and I think the one thing that a kind of
culture that condones sexual misconduct does – is shuts people down and makes them
isolated and vulnerable. And if we claim to care about people, if we came to claim
to care about our community, I think one of the ways that we show that we care
about community is by tackling misconduct and by making sure that
everyone feels safe and supported and feels like they can get the justice that
they need- through whatever means that might be.


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