Manchester students call for action over increase of sexual assaults and harassment in Fallowfield
- With a population of over 15,000, Fallowfield has become a student hub in Manchester and a target for sexual assault and violent crime
- Police statistics report 680 cases of violent and sexual offences in the last three years, taking up almost a quarter of crime (23.5%) in Fallowfield.
- Students say it has a huge impact on their mental health and anxiety levels
- Students have written to MPs and universities calling for change
"I often hold my keys like a knife in my hands and put my phone in my bra," says 20-year-old psychology student Efa Ashman.
Efa is one of many Manchester students who have written to their local MP about the increased levels of sexual assault in Fallowfield.
Herself and numerous others have begun to take a stand against the increase of harassment and sexual assault in the area.
Alongside Efa is student Caitlin who has written to Man Met, the Student Union, and local MPs calling for change.
She has also set up the Facebook group ‘Manchester Students Against Public Sexual Harassment’ which has more than 400 members calling for action.
"I think our society has completely normalised this experience for women/ non-binary people and it’s just not on the radar of men," Efa said.
"The news loves to tell us about rare and shocking stories - the daily sexual harassment of women/non-binary people just doesn’t meet these criteria".
On its website, GMP lists the following statistics for Fallowfield:
- 680 cases of violent and sexual offences in the last three years, taking up almost a quarter (23.5%) in Fallowfield
- 56.5% of crimes were left incomplete with no suspect identified - only 3.8% of cases came to a resolution in court
Describing herself as someone who has always been active on issues of injustice, Efa decided to begin writing to MPs after her friend was harassed by a group of boys in school uniform, as well as knowing first-hand how the feeling of uncertainty when walking alone in Fallowfield can take a toll on your mental health.
She said: "The challenge I face is that through the winter it gets dark so early. I don’t feel safe in parks at dark - some parks are not even equipped with lampposts.
"This limits what I can do after 4pm which has absolutely taken its toll on my mental health.
"If I could, I would always have something playing through my headphones while I’m walking, but if it’s dark and I’m not walking along a busy main road I feel too vulnerable to have anything playing, as I wouldn’t be able to hear someone coming."
Calling for change, she posted on the Facebook page ‘Manchester Students’ Group’ offering to write draft emails to MPs on behalf of anyone who has experienced sexual harassment or assault.
With little mainstream media coverage about the continuous reports of these incidents in Fallowfield, for students it is an everyday issue and many recount their experiences on social media.
In her Facebook post - which received over 175 likes - Efa wrote: "If the perpetrator(s) is in school uniform, the school should be contacted. They should be explicitly teaching all of their students that sexual harassment is a crime and is unacceptable.
"MP’s should be contacted, it’s their job to represent you and your views. We shouldn’t feel unsafe in our local area, no matter what. This is a problem that urgently needs addressing".
Although she believes MPs understand the severity of the situation, Efa feels people have created a narrative that sexual assault is something that is out of their personal control.
Caitlin believes the issue of assaults and harassment in Fallowfield has been brushed under the rug and "put to one side by authorities and universities".
Shed said: "I don’t think they realise how horrible it actually is, and how many people are affected by this.
"It’s frustrating that we’ve had to take matters into our own hands, but hopefully they’re starting to listen."
Since the start of the academic year, Caitlin has seen posts every week on the Manchester Student’s Group Facebook page, reporting some sort of sexual harassment.
By the beginning of December, she was so angry she decided to take action herself.
"The support so far has been great, and I’m not surprised. I know so many people who are concerned about the issue and are sick of it going unnoticed," she said.
In a short space of time, Caitlin has had a meeting with the head of pastoral support at Man Met and has meetings lined up with the University of Manchester, MMU, Greater Manchester Police, as well as a student housing company in Manchester.
The aim is to try and set up a cross body group to try and tackle the issue.
The group is campaigning for a minibus service to drop students off at their door from campus, as well as more patrols down side streets and free panic alarms.
Cailin said: "Since I moved to Manchester I’ve been aware of this issue and known I need to be careful.
"I think in second year when I moved to Fallowfield was when I realised how cautious I needed to be and tried not to walk alone".
Efa echoed this, saying: "I don’t feel safe. I worry I might get mugged or harassed".
The group is currently developing an app, SafeMate, an idea brought forward by member of the group Harry Panter, as one of their main focuses for reducing the amount of sexual harassment and assault in the area.
The app will allow students to create a trusted support bubble where they can request a person to walk with, as well as share their live location with whilst out. SafeMate also plans to feature a heatmap, where users can report and clearly see any recent incidents, as well as a crucial distress feature that will be connected directly to local authorities.
They have begun working on a crowdfunder to support the production of the application, offering T-shirts and gifts to those who donate.
You can show your support by following the Manchester Students Against Public Sexual Harassment Facebook Page, and staying up to date with the progress of their campaign.
A statement by Man Met said: “Manchester Metropolitan University recognises that incidents of sexual violence and misconduct take place within the iuniversity community and can be experiences by any individuals.
“The university is committed to promoting a culture in which any incidents of sexual violence or misconduct will not be tolerated.
“Incidents of sexual violent and misconduct that are reported to the university will be thoroughly addressed to ensure the preservation of a safe work and study environment for all.”