Reports of street harassment on the rise in Cambridge

Reetika Subramanian 21 January 2017

A Wolfson College student was in for a rude shock earlier this month when she was flashed by a stranger, turning what had been a normal afternoon into a distressing one.

Following the complaint she subsequently made, Cambridgeshire Police is on the lookout for a “big white man in his early 50s, wearing a black scarf, a dark waterproof coat, blue jeans, and a dark woolly hat”.

This is the latest addition to a spate of incidents of street sexual harassment reported by Cambridge students. Street harassment includes crimes such as stalking and unwanted sexual remarks and actions.

In response to a query posed by The Cambridge Student under the Freedom of Information Act, data provided by Cambridgeshire Police revealed that there has been a gradual increase in the number of reported cases of street harassment since 2006. Between January 2006 and November 2016, 3,386 cases of street sexual harassment were reported to Cambridgeshire Police. According to the data, 413 incidents were reported to the police in 2015 alone, up from 174 in 2012. In 2016, 385 cases had been reported before December.

Speaking in response to the findings, a Cambridgeshire Police spokesperson said that the rise in reports of sexual offences was by “no means a local issue".

“There has been a rise in reports of sexual offences across the country in recent years,” he said.

“This is believed to be the result of victims being more confident in reporting crimes, knowing they will be treated seriously. It may also have been influenced by high profile sexual abuse cases in the media.”

In Michaelmas 2016, CUSU representatives met with Cambridgeshire Police and submitted suggestions to bring about greater safety.

“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.

“The onus shouldn’t be on students to constantly monitor and condition their behaviour,” she added.

University authorities are taking these complaints very seriously in order to ensure students’ safety.

“We are aware that violent crime and sexual assault in particular, is an issue for higher education establishments globally,” a University spokesperson said.

They added that the University is in the process of establishing a new procedure and code of conduct to deal with student complaints of student harassment and sexual misconduct.

“While it had originally been intended to implement this at the beginning of 2017, some late amendments to the detail of the procedure has led to a short delay and we now hope to implement it later in the academic year.”