The Last Taboo
Interviewer: Elena Gebhard (SPS, Uni of York, Y2)
FEBRUARY 23, 2021
CW: discussion of sexual violence
The Last Taboo’ is a very compelling name, what do those words mean to you?
The reason we decided to use the name ‘The Last Taboo’ for our organisation is because we feel sexual assault and harassment are one of the few taboos left amongst young people (and society in general). Despite being such a difficult thing to talk about due to how severe it is, we feel it is really important to create a safe space where we can have open and honest conversations about an issue that affects so many people at universities.
Given the highly sensitive nature of sexual harassment, what inspired you to go beyond your personal experiences and create an entire campaign?
Our most significant reason for setting up this campaign is because we want to help people. We want to provide a space where people feel welcome, safe and comfortable to ask questions and engage in conversations that can be difficult.
However, we want to create positive institutional change too. Alongside running our campaign, we have developed a number of consultations for students so they can have their voices heard. By working closely with the University of York, we aim to improve the policies, reporting procedures and support systems that are currently in place for those who have experienced sexual assault or harassment.
How has the response been so far? And how do you plan on growing your campaign?
The response we have had from launching this campaign has been overwhelming. We have had so much support from so many people (staff and students). We have had the wonderful opportunity to work with so many different student groups and we are so lucky to be able to learn from so many amazing individuals.
We have lots of plans for the growth of our campaign: we want to ensure that we can keep the conversation at York alive, maintain a dialogue between students and staff and support the University in making sure they do the best for their students.
Another one of our biggest goals is to be able to expand from the University of York and start facilitating these important conversations in other universities across the UK.
How has your awareness and perception of sexual harassment changed since the start of your campaign?
I think we have both become much more aware of the scale of this issue, not just at the University of York but at universities across the country. We are really lucky to be able to learn from the amazing people we work with and that has enabled us to understand the nature of the situation more clearly.
It is also important to note that since launching the campaign, we are much more optimistic than we were before starting the campaign. Talking to so many different people, staff and students, it is clear we all want the same thing: we all want students to feel safe and supported. So, whilst sexual assault and harassment is a horrific thing, there are so many people all working together to try and tackle the issue and make positive changes.
From what I’ve always heard and read, women seem to be the main target of sexual harassment in everyday life. Have you found this to be true in your experience?
Whilst statistically women make up the majority of victims of sexual assault and harassment, it is important to recognise that all genders face these issues.
Launching this campaign has made us realise just how big of an issue male sexual assault and harassment is. We believe it is really important that we are as inclusive as possible as sexual assault and harassment can happen to anyone, regardless of gender, race, sexuality or background.
You have recently launched a female-specific survey on sexual assault and harassment. How do you hope to utilize these questionnaires?
Alongside the female-specific survey we have many other surveys including those for LGBTQ+ and BAME students across the UK, as well as ones for Men, Disabled, working class and postgraduate students at the University of York.
We have developed these consultations so we can build a clearer understanding of the scale of the issue of sexual assault and harassment at the University of York. The data we are collecting from these consultations will be compiled into a report that we will be presenting to the Student Life Committee in April.
Alongside the data from these consultations, the report will also feature a section which will include recommendations drawn from suggestions submitted from students and staff through the consultations.
As two full-time students, leading a campaign on such a sensitive topic must be very intense. How have you managed to take care of your own mental and physical health whilst making sure the campaign stays alive?
It can be intense at times, but we know that what we are doing is worth the struggle we have at times. We are fortunate to be able to talk honestly to each other and use each other as support. We also have strong support systems away from each other; I know I’m incredibly lucky to have such supportive and amazing housemates who support me through times where I feel a little low.
Something else we are looking into is accessing clinical supervision which will help us to continue doing the work we are currently doing without being negatively affected.
As well as strong support systems, we know it’s also important to schedule time away from the campaign and from university work to do things that help look after ourselves, this includes getting outside and going for a walk or having down time and watching a film. Time management is definitely one the most crucial things to get right when running a campaign like ours.
What would you say are the most important take home messages from The Last Taboo?
I think the most important message for people to take away from our organisation is that if you have been affected by sexual assault or harassment, you are not alone and there is so much support that you can access. We also want people to know that it is okay to ask questions and have conversations about sexual violence. It is important to make sure you have them in a sensitive way, but they can be had and it’s important that we do have them. We cannot change behaviours if we can’t educate people and that comes through discussion and questions.
How can our readers get involved with and support your campaign?
There are a number of ways readers can support the campaign. One of the best ways readers can get involved is by following our Instagram page (@the.last.taboo) and engaging with our content. We try to make sure we have a range of content on our Instagram page since which allows us to create diverse content on the difficult issues of sexual assault and harassment, but it also allows us to make lighter, and more fun content about things like fun, safe sex.
Another way students can get involved is by writing for us! We have a blog over on our website (https://www.thelasttaboo.co.uk/students-say) called Students Say. It is an opportunity for students to be able to write about anything that relates to the content on our Instagram account. If anyone is interested or has an idea for a blog post then make sure to send us a DM or an email, we would really love to hear from you!
If someone is on a committee of a society, they can pledge their support to our campaign and to standing against sexual violence. To see some examples of pledges, head to our Instagram where you will find lots of inspiration. To submit a pledge, you can use the pledge form on our website (https://www.thelasttaboo.co.uk/the-university-of-york).
We have also have a GoFundMe page set up to help us raise the money needed to cover the costs of our organization. We understand that this is an especially difficult time for everyone so we are extremely grateful for any support you can give us.
If anyone has been affected by these issues and feels like they need support, then we have a list of support services that can offer the help needed. This can be found over on the support services page of the website (https://www.thelasttaboo.co.uk/support-services). Don’t forget that if you are a student at the University of York there are two Sexual Violence Liaison Officers who are there to support you, their details can also be found on the Support Services page of our website.