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Editorial #278

Our front page story this issue is, self-evidently, an important one. It’s the result of months of hard work, countless conversations, and painstaking fact-checking. It goes without saying how grateful we are to all the students who have trusted us to tell their stories. Whilst shocking and unpleasant to hear about in our own home town, sadly, the concept is not a new one. Harassment at work is a form of unlawful discrimination — and yet it’s endemic. As you will read, nearly half of Scottish women have experienced sexual harassment at work in some form — and, more depressingly, 85 per cent do not feel it would be dealt with properly if they even reported the incident.

Back in 2017, The Saint ran another investigation focusing on the hospitality industry in St Andrews as a whole. The findings were chillingly similar. It is disheartening, disappointing, and demoralizing to know that seven years later very little has changed. The behaviour The Saint heard about is deplorable, and speaks to a huge lack of respect — both for hospitality workers in general, and young women. We all deserve to live and work in this town without the fear of being treated with disrespect and frankly, contemptible behaviour. Yet the perpetrators get away with it, time and time (and time) again, because they are made to feel like they can; they are paying clients, they are in a position of authority, or they simply know that the chances are they won’t be challenged. That the behaviour continues to go unchecked and unchallenged is unacceptable and needs to change. And yet, we are faced with an impossible task. As women, we’re told to speak up about it when it happens and yet when we do we’re told we’re being overly sensitive, that they were clearly joking, or it’s not a big deal. As students, it’s even worse — we’re young, impressionable, and in a situation where a job is on the line, easy to take advantage of. Because some don’t have the choice to take a stand and quit — the money is simply non-negotiable. And so, it perpetuates.

The response — or lack thereof — to reports of harassment is deeply concerning. The complete lack of faith in the existing system which has failed us on countless occasions speaks volumes, and this in itself perpetuates a culture of silence.   

It’s vital that everyone plays their part in holding both individuals and institutions to account for their actions. Employers have a responsiblity to create an environment which has robust reporting mechanisms in place — systems which not only welcome feedback, criticism, or reports of  unwanted sexual advances, but actively seek that dialogue. Perpetrators must be faced with swift disciplinary actions and consequences for their actions that are geniunely meaningful — being a paying client or someone’s superior does not give you a pass to behave however you want.  It is not a  permit to  exert your position of power, gender, or bank balance over another human being. Let alone a young woman simply trying to get through university.

This has been an important story to write, but it’s one that we never should have had to. It’s heartbreaking and unacceptable that someone cannot go to work without fear of being grabbed “by the thigh”, verbally abused, or made to feel uncomfortable by the very people wielding positions of power over them.

The Saint hopes that in another seven years’ time, we’ll be telling a completely different story.

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