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Oxford marks Sexual Violence awareness week with candlelit vigil

This article touches on themes of sexual violence. If you are affected by any of the issues raised in the article, Oxfordshire Sexual Abuse & Rape Crisis Centre (OSARCC) provides a confidential listening space on 0800 783 6294.

On Saturday 8th February, survivors and allies gathered at the Clarendon Building to take part in a candlelit vigil, as part of Sexual Violence and Sexual Abuse Awareness Week. The event was organised by Oluwakemi Agunbiade (Wadham College), in association with Oxford Feminist Society and It Happens Here, an anti-sexual violence campaign associated with Oxford SU.

Students and city-dwellers alike stood together, illuminated by candlelight on the cold evening to hear from student speakers, representatives from Oxfordshire Sexual Abuse & Rape Crisis Centre (OSARCC), and a spoken word performance from Emmeline Armitage (Lady Margaret Hall).

The vigil aimed to raise awareness and show support and solidarity with victims of sexual assault and abuse. Kemi told The Oxford Blue: “I hope that the event did what it set out to do: arm people with the hope that will bring the change we need – I am thankful for everyone who came and that the stigma around the topic did not stop people from supporting what is basic human decency and kindness.”

The speakers noted that there is a problem with the way sexual violence cases are handled at the university; often lacking in emotional support and overly bureaucratised.

Figures obtained under Freedom of Information (FOI) laws by the BBC have revealed that sexual violence and harassment cases at universities have trebled in three years. Universities recorded 1,436 allegations of sexual harassment or sexual violence against students in 2018-19, up from 476 in 2016-17. Among the 124 universities that provided information, just 33 confirmed they used specialists to interview students making claims.

In response to universities’ failings to address campus sexual assault, Oxford-based campaign It Happens Here was founded to change university policy. Their campaign aims to create a culture of consent through consent workshops, lobbying the university for policy changes, support and resources.

Sexual Violence and Sexual Abuse Awareness Week runs from 3rd – 9th February and aims to raise awareness and stand in solidarity with victims of sexual violence.