"Some of the chalkings were shocking, but that's the point"
On 14th of November, members of the Students Against Sexual Harassment and Assault Society (SASHA) chalked testimonies of sexual harassment they had collected from students in Leeds onto the University’s campus. They did this between 6:30am and 7:30am; by 8:30am, staff at the University began cleaning off all the chalk. It took just one hour for the University of Leeds to silence these victims of sexual harassment.
When asked why staff were removing the testimonies, they said they had been told to do so because they were deemed ‘offensive’. Some included phrases such as “sex on legs”, “nice legs”, “I like your clothes, but you look better with them off”, “fat slag” and “that’s hot but I guess too young for me”.
Because of the quick turnaround, many students didn’t get the chance to see the testimonies. SASHA society took inspiration from Instagram account ‘catcallsofnyc’, who regularly carry out this type of activism on the streets of New York. The whole purpose of this was to raise awareness for the victims of sexual harassment, using first-hand experiences from students at the university. The intention of documenting these stories on the pavements was an act to reclaim the streets, for women to feel in control and safe.
The question is, who would be made uncomfortable seeing these statements? Maybe it would be male staff members or students, but they are the people who will never hear these phrases said to them. It wouldn’t be women who have heard them countless times. If anyone feels uncomfortable… welcome to our world. The world is full of catcalling, misogyny, ‘asking for it’.
I asked Niamh, a committee member of SASHA society, what she thought. She said “this is obviously really upsetting and frustrating for anyone who has experienced public sexual harassment. The uni silenced us from speaking out today, which is so disappointing and demonstrates why we feel the need to carry out campaigns like this”.
She continued “Some of the chalking’s were shocking. But that’s the point. We were trying to raise awareness about the awful, sexualised comments that are directed towards feminine presenting people as they go about their daily lives. You’d think the uni would find that more offensive than the awareness we were trying to spread!!”
It is disappointing that the university, who confidently claims to be “committed to providing a safe environment for students”, is quick to silence victims of sexual harassment. SASHA also found that 75% of students have experienced sexual violence. These testimonies were in chalk, they would have erased with the time, but what is not erasable? The memory of hearing these words, these vile phrases, sometimes on a daily basis. All the victims have left is a voice, and on the 14th of November even that got taken away from them.
Words: Holly Phillips
Image Credit: SASHA Society