Barely a month after coming to Cambridge in October last year, an MPhil student had an unpleasant encounter on the street near to Parker’s Piece.
On her way back home from yoga class, she was listening to music on her phone, when she realised that someone had been following her for a while.
“For nearly five minutes, he kept following me from behind. I didn’t pay much heed,” said the student, who asked to remain anonymous.
“Suddenly, he spanked me… I was too shocked to react. He was certainly very drunk. I think he laughed and walked ahead like nothing had happened.”
For some students coming to the University from distant corners of the globe, the dark alleyways and secluded corners are certainly a matter of concern, especially in the winter when it gets dark earlier in the evening.
It is not unusual for students to find this email in their inboxes: “Students who travel on foot or by bicycle are urged to walk and ride in pairs whenever possible. All those who travel close to or a er nightfall should carry a torch, and an easily accessible charged mobile phone.”
Through email alerts, posters, and focused discussions, colleges are also trying their best to also ensure that students feel fully equipped to report cases of sexual harassment.
“The collegiate University is committed to dealing with any sexual harassment or misconduct, and it recognises the interest shown by both students and staff,” said a University spokesperson.
Following the spate of incidents, CUSU representatives met with officers from the Cambridgeshire Police last term and submitted suggestions.
“Our suggestions included allowing students to anonymously report instances of harassment to the police. This would provide them with data that could justify a full investigation of the matter,” said Audrey Sebatindira, CUSU’s Women’s Officer.
She also emphasised the need to find new ways to protect students. There are plans to create and publicise a map of college Porters’ Lodge across Cambridge, where students who might feel threatened could seek refuge in any of them, even in the small hours.
At an individual level, students have also been taking due care to ensure that they are not caught in such unexpected, dangerous situations.
“Stay in bright places, do not walk down alleyways,” said Monsicha Mint Pongrujikorn, a student of Cambridge Judge Business School.
“Pay attention to where you’re going, not your phone,” she added.
However, several students claim that Cambridge is much safer than their own hometowns.
“Since it has such a large student population, you do end up seeing a lot of bikers even late into the night,” said a Jesus College student, adding: “You do encounter people drunk on the street, but it is not necessarily dangerous.”
Echoing this sentiment, Pui May Wong, from Darwin College said, “I feel safer in Cambridge than I do back home.”
Wong also added that she stays very alert when she is on the street, “I keep my eyes and ears open. I have got pepper spray as well, but I do not keep it out since Cambridge seems fine.”
In the midst of these discussions, others say that it is important not to get paranoid.
“Fear will not solve the problem. We need to be on the streets and ensure that we tackle the issue head-on,” said Sociology student Sara Wong.