A second-year student at the University of St Andrews recently shared her experience with another student online, claiming that they stalked and harassed her. The student, Sarah, says her safety was threatened in her own home.
In St Andrews, many students use Facebook and other forms of social media to spread awareness in the community. In the last few weeks, multiple incidents of stalking and harassment have occurred. In both cases, the victims struggled with finding the best course of action to protect themselves.
Sarah initially had trouble filing a report to the police department and was promised multiple times that an officer would visit her residence so she could make a statement, but no one showed up. Despite the frustrating process, upon going into the station, she was met with help and support. Sarah said, “They didn’t rush me or make me feel overdramatic”. Someone from Fife Security was ultimately sent to her home to set up extra measures.
The University urges that “the police should be contacted as quickly as possible if any suspicious or criminal activity is seen.” They also encourage students to report crime internally, using their incident report system. Fife Police refer to the University when asked for advice on student safety as they are periodically sent out information on Online Safety and Third-Party Reporting.
According to the University website, incidents of “opportunist theft” are the highest reported crimes in town. However, across the country, gender-based violence, such as rape and sexual assault, but also stalking and harassment, is officially reported much less frequently, due to different factors. Many victims avoid reporting because they may fear exposure, and or feel that the low likelihood of actual justice is not worth recounting traumatic incidents again and again. Sarah explained, “as women, the system is working against us… [we] are not taken seriously until it is too late.”
Sarah was most let down by the Universities Security and Response Team, SRT. The University website describes the SRT as the resource after you dial 999 if you are not in university managed accommodation. Sarah said, “[They] could not have been less helpful”. However, she was determined to seek justice and safety for others in the community.
“If I have to be the person to deal with the police and deal with all this paperwork bullsh-t to make sure he doesn’t hurt another girl again, I’m okay with that,” she said.
Like Sarah, a woman-only flat also experienced a threatening incident last week. Amy, one of the flatmates, also described being disappointed at the efficiency of police response, ultimately relying on other members of her community to ensure her safety. A man was seen staring into their front window, and then attempted to enter the property by lying about being an electrical engineer. When unsuccessful, another or the same man was seen around the back of their property. Their house has been targeted multiple times.
“First we called the non-emergency number, but there was such a long wait time,” she explained, “at which point we called 999, and it took them like three hours to come.” While, in the days following the incident, the police have been helpful and supportive to the household, it was other support systems that have proved to be more important to them. Amy’s flat mates were advised by their landlord to have a male friend stay with them for the night. Amy said she informed her neighbors as soon as possible of the incident. Informal student “neighborhood watch” groups have been set up in high traffic neighborhoods and streets.
Other than these incidents, there have been attacks against local residents in the center of town in the last month. This has raised the question of if policing should be increased in light of these growing threats. Amy, however, is adamant about this not being the solution. “[The police] would not be here on the day to day making me feel safe,” she said. “While it’s important to spread awareness, I also don’t want to fearmonger.”
She emphasised the importance of local-empowerment and support within neighborhoods and friends to protect against the risk of gender-based violence.