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NUS' Kelley Temple On The Struggle To Educate Misogynistic Students

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"If men can't grope women in clubs, they're more likely to progress onto rape," Kelley Temple, the women's officer for students was once told - and that's just a snapshot of the battle she's facing against misogyny on campuses.

"Universities simply don't take sexism seriously enough," she tells The Huffington Post UK. "The problem is no-one really understands. Sometimes there is an attempt to tackle the symptom of the problem. Very rarely is there an attempt to tackle it from the root.

"Part of it comes from not really understanding the situation." Temple says this is the reason the NUS has commissioned Sussex University to conduct research into misogyny on campus and "lad cultures", which will be published in March. "We need to understand what the problems look like and decide how to tackle them," she continues.

"Women's officers spend a lot of time in their positions essentially battling the symptoms of lad culture and continuously having to tackle the issue of lad's mags objectifying women or sexist adverts in student unions. They spend so much time trying to tackle them but the same problems keep coming up.

"It's very difficult to make people understand the harm that this culture is creating."

One in seven female students have experienced a serious physical or sexual assault during their time at university, according to the NUS' Hidden Marks report, which was published in 2012. Kelley says there are problems embedded in a misogynistic culture which are simply laughed off as "banter", meaning sexual assault on women is not treated seriously enough.

"In the past, sexism was in a very overt way, quite acceptable and normalised. Because of the success of a lot of feminists, it's become a lot acceptable to become openly sexist. But it hasn't disappeared, it hasn't gone away, it just manifests itself so it becomes a lot more covert and it exists under different guises and forms.

"One of those forms is "banter". What that is, when you try and apply humour you can say 'Oh but it's just ironic, I don't really mean this'."

Kelley uses the infamous quote from self-proclaimed "lad magazine" Uni Lad, which joked:

"If the girl you've taken for a drink... won't 'spread for your head', think about this mathematical statistic: 85% of rape cases go unreported. That seems to be fairly good odds. Uni Lad does not condone rape without saying 'surprise'."

Kelley continues: "What's scary is when that becomes a currency with which people communicate with each other on campus and they don't know how to communicate beyond that, so when you challenge it they think you're stopping people interacting with each other."

She adds she has "a few horror stories" she could tell and when pressed further, reveals the worst. "It was really horrendous," she recalls. "Someone on a student council told me: 'If men can't get a grab of women or grope of women in a nightclub then they're more likely to go on to rape. If they can't release their frustrations by groping women then it will increase the chances of aggression and rape.' Obviously they didn't say it publicly but it's an example of the mind frame which we're having to deal with."

She says the solution is to identify the problem and what it means. "When you start looking at the harm, people don't find it funny."

Kelley also identifies the student confession pages, which have recently had a surge in popularity as one of the contributors to sexism on campus.

"They are essentially students confessing hate crimes. They are protected anonymously and these hate crimes are glorified by these confessions pages.

"[These students] default to making fun of and taking the piss out of people who have less power in society, and that's a reflection of the fact that sexism on campus is part of sexism within a wider society."

Nothing could emphasise Kelley's point of campuses being a microcosm of society better than Thursday's shocking statistics which revealed one in five women has been a victim of a sexual offence. Only 15% of women reporting the offence to the police, with the most common reasons for not coming forward being "embarrassing".

Kelley says the culture of misogyny, and in particular "lad culture" extends beyond the stereotypes of macho sports teams. "Lad culture is much wider than just sports societies. It extends far beyond sports societies; it can be student politics at a student association, it can be advertising, or what a student union sells. It permeates lots of different places, and that's another reason to understand what it's about."

Despite the obstacles she faces, Kelley remains optimistic. "We do have an opportunity on campus to challenge this. Hopefully what we can do going forward is say well this is what the impact is, it's not good enough, we can do better."

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