BM83: Resolution against Gender-based Violence: We Live in Unsafe Spaces.

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We need a deconstruction of the patriarchal social and cultural structure in which we are immersed; we need education, from schools to HEIs!

At the end of October, during a night shift at Umberto I, the university polyclinic site of the Faculty of Medicine of Rome’s ‘La Sapienza’ University, a nurse raped a student intern in the hospital. In the workplace, within the walls of a hospital, and in an academic and educational context, we witnessed a grave and intolerable act of violence that can find no place or justification.

On the night between Saturday 29 and Sunday 30 October, a 23-year-old student was attacked and raped by an unknown man inside her room at the EDISU Paolo Borsellino university residence in Turin, in the Polytechnic area.

On October 20th, a pedagogy professor from the KU Leuven in Belgium received a 54-month prison sentence for raping a student at a conference in Barcelona in 2016. He abused his position as a professor and thesis promotor to take her with him under false pretences so that he could take advantage of her. Shortly after this sentence, the Vrije Universiteit Brussel filed a criminal complaint with the public prosecutor against several student association members for several incidents of alleged sexual assault. Meanwhile, the students in question have been banned from entering campus. These are just the latest examples of countless stories of harassment, abuse of power and rape by university staff and fellow students that have come out in Flanders in the past year. 

We live in unsafe spaces. We live in a sexist and patriarchal society that tolerates and justifies episodes of violence and sexual harassment through a boorish and distorted narrative that focuses on the victim, who has to prove they were raped, and not on the perpetrator.

Rape culture needs to be strongly eradicated, and we cannot allow society, institutions and authorities in our country to continue to endorse such narratives.

The problem is cultural and mostly the result of a patriarchal and sexist tradition that places women, intersex, non-binary, transgender and agender people and the LGBTQIA+ community, in a dynamic of subordination, as the ‘property’ of men. It is certainly nothing new how the Italian judicial authorities often use sexist stereotypes in their decisions and how these expose victims to moralising and secondary victimisation (a dynamic denounced just a year ago by the ECHR), short-circuiting what should be the natural and safe path of protection and guarantee for reporting violence suffered.

However, our struggle must be accompanied by deconstructing the social and cultural order in which we are immersed, starting with sex and gender education in schools. We need to recognise sexual and gender-based violence in a broader sense, to recognise it and combat it as a political and not a moral problem: actions are needed to overturn the patriarchal order in which we live, politicising the issue of relationships, affections and gender roles. It is important to emphasise that it is never ok if anyone in a position of power uses that power to make anyone do things without their consent.

Rather than working on toughening penalties, we should treat this issue as a structural problem in our society, finance women’s centres and shelters, organise prevention and information campaigns, and create ad hoc paths within schools and HEIs. To transform our social and emotional relations, to finally free them, we must start by transforming the institutional set-up that has always legitimised them.

For this reason, as European Students’ Union, together with Unione degli Universitari (UDU), Vlaamse Vereniging van Studenten (VVS) and Fédération des Étudiant·e·s Francophone (FEF), we express our heartfelt support for all victims and demand:

  • The introduction of gender, sexual and affectivity education courses, as well as education courses about non-violence, starting in kindergartens and going all the way up to HEIs;
  • The implementation of training courses for teachers, staff members and trainee tutors on gender, sexual and affectivity education to combat gender-based violence;
  • The involvement of student representatives in the decision-making and disciplinary bodies involved in promoting prevention and support measures concerning these problems within HEIs;
  • The introduction of Codes of Conduct for the prevention and combating of harassment and discrimination in all university premises, including student residences and curricular traineeship environments;
  • The opening of anonymous and free helpdesks against gender-based violence, which are safe spaces for students and university staff, offering psychological and legal support within HEIs, along with minimum guarantees concerning transparency towards the victim;
  • Structural investments to finance each HEI independent and accessible anti-violence centres. Those centres, established with students’ involvement, would have:

    1. Trained staff to provide free, efficient and effective legal advice and/or help and psychological support for those who have suffered or witnessed violence
    2. The possibility, if asked by the victim, to take necessary action within the HEI towards the abuser(s) 
    3. Resources to protect victims with a trusted and qualified person to whom students and academic staff can turn for support

It is a priority to erase this violence once and for all in universities, student residences, trainee spaces and society. The fight against violence and discrimination is a fight for civilisation. In this sense, institutions must have a key role in the radical and structural change that our society needs to eradicate and fight the cultural framework that has always legitimised them.


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