Nottingham University’s Conservative Association holds controversial sexual assault debate

A residential hall’s library was venue to a ‘Port and Policy’ event, debating the question, ‘Are women who dress provocatively more likely to be victims of sexual assault?’ The event has caused uproar amongst the university, with members of the Women’s Network saying ‘the poster made them feel sick’ and that it was disgusting that the topic was even being discussed. The hall has since begun some sort of prosecution against the society for making and causing excessive noise in the evening. On why the topic was discussed, the society’s president, Thomas Barlow said they “did as we always do” and that all of the committee agreed the topic needed debating and was not put forward because they all agreed with the motion.

Personally, I think this debate only became controversial because a few people interpreted the question in a certain way and thought that the society was ‘victim-blaming’. In a Tab Nottingham article one student commented that it was “a big fuss over nothing.” She said: “I think the people on the Women’s Network are reading it in a way that they want to read it because it’s obvious that the poster is not promoting ‘victim blame’ for sexual assault but merely suggesting that if you dress in a provocative manner you might attract more unwanted attention then if you didn’t. Although I don’t agree with this claim, I don’t see the harm in it being debated. I don’t think the wording is necessarily offensive but I guess it could of been worded better if people are still kicking off about it. The poster was obviously not trying to cause offence but promote curiosity to come to the event which is fair play.”

One female student – who had been a victim of assault – who attended the debate, defended the decision to host the event. She said: ”I am obviously opposed to the motion – completely – but perhaps if the women’s network offered more support to victims such as myself then the profile of these horrendous incidents would not need to be debated in such a capacity in order to gain awareness. There is no doubt in my mind that no one in attendance at that event would go so far as to say that I deserved what happened that night or blame me for it outright.” I would have to agree with this view. Dressing provocatively can draw more unwanted attention to you if you go out.

On the other hand, the way you dress definitely does not cause you to become a victim of sexual assault. The question debated did not ask whether dressing provocatively caused sexual assault, but whether you may be more likely to be a victim. The debate did not conclude that women bring sexual assault on themselves, but dressing in a certain way could encourage attention from people who were already intent on committing sexual assault. It is the criminal that decides to commit the crime, they would have committed the crime nonetheless, but dressing provocatively may bring extra attention to you.

When questioned on the sensibility of the event, Barlow commented that proposed debates are put to a poll to members and non-members who would like to attend the debate. Barlow said: “I don’t think there’s anything wrong with debating issues; this question was the most popular of the options offered. We tend to try to put questions to people that are topical.” He added that the Women’s Network were invited to the event but did not attend. I cannot help but feel that the Women’s Network is not in a place to accuse the Conservative Association if they have not attended the event, where the question and intentions behind it would have been clarified. In a poll on the Huffington Post, 35% said the they were perfectly within their right to hold that debate, meanwhile 18% believed that they should not have held a debate on such an issue.

A member of the Woman’s Network gave this comment, ”The emphasis is on the victim’s behaviour, despite the fact there are endless statistics proving that the victim’s behaviour/dress/appearance etc make no difference. If somebody wants to rape somebody else, then they will do that, whether they’re wearing a bikini or a burka.” Perhaps the motion could have been phrased better, it certainly is a sensitive issue, but I don’t think the motion was particularly victim blaming.

What do you think?