Reading MFIF reminded me of an event which took place during my time at university. I did a four-year language degree, with the third year spent abroad (I went to France).
Early into my fourth year, the language faculty arranged an evening event where returning fourth-years could discuss their year abroad experiences with second-years planning their overseas stays. I volunteered to discuss my memories of France, and to try and impart some useful advice to the second-years; other fourth-years who had been elsewhere did the same.
Languages is a female-dominated area of study; hence most of us speakers, and most of the audience, were young women. Every single female student sharing her reminiscences had a story of sexual harassment to share, to the point where the theme dominated the event, even though the evening was intended as an opportunity to discuss all aspects of the year abroad experience. Most of us had been flashed; street harassment tales were universal. The worst story was that of the student who’d gone to Russia and had suffered an attempted rape in the lift of her apartment block. Other girls had been the target of attempted drug rapes in clubs, or had been followed home by men they encountered on public transport.
The second-years who attended seemed quite taken aback by the speakers’ strong and near-unanimous warnings about harassment and attempted violence. Male students, too, should beware those things when on their years abroad – but it is the female students who are always much more likely to experience sexual violence, whether verbal or physical.
Of course, it’s not like the UK is a paradise where sexual harassment is unknown – just that for students venturing outside the university bubble to a foreign country with different social norms, away from friends, family and support structures, it can be a real shock, and very unsettling, to be the target of higher levels of harassment. I wish someone had warned me about it before I went on my year abroad.
As always, guess it’s #OFWF.