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George Galloway, Rape Culture, and Our Students' Unions

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George Galloway; a man lauded by some, laughed at by many more and offensive to almost everyone. Despite being a fairly idle politician - 10.9% voting attendance and a suspicious tendency to switch constituency at re-election time- he is invited to speak at students' unions up and down the country on the basis of his "expertise". What these student unions fail to realise when they invite Galloway to speak, is that they are feeding into the rape culture that pervades our society, and increasingly, our universities. This time, courtesy of LSESU Politics and Forum Society, it was the turn of my university, the London School of Economics; home to some of the world's foremost academics, brightest students, and apparently, a penchant for rape deniers .

Galloway has made, and refuses to apologise for, several comments denying that certain kinds of rape exist. This is a man who said that penetrating a woman who is asleep "might be really sordid and bad sexual etiquette, but whatever else it is, it is not rape, or you bankrupt the term rape of all meaning" . He also asserted that, "not everybody needs to be asked prior to every insertion" and weighed in on Julian Assange's alleged rape case, saying, "she woke up to him having sex with her again- something which can happen, you know." Galloway consistently refuses to apologise for these comments, I even asked him to at LSE. His response? "Next question." When asked again, he exasperatedly replied "Can we move on to the important issues now?" "Can we move onto the global issues now?" According to Galloway, rape isn't an important or global issue.

I doubt that many people with half a brain and a basic understanding of the law would defend Galloway on these points, but what many do defend is his right to speak at our students' unions. Before you all get worked up over censorship, I'm not saying the man shouldn't speak at all, just not at our students' unions. The reasons for this are twofold.

Firstly, inviting a man like Galloway to speak sends out a very strong message that his views on rape will be allowed in favour of his more palatable contributions to society. When students' unions allow him to speak, they may not agree with him, but they agree to be part of an institutional culture that tolerates rape and rape denial, especially when committed by powerful men (cough cough, the BBC and Jimmy Saville, cough cough, the film industry and Roman Polanski). This is particularly topical at our universities, where allegations of freshers drink spiking, sexual assault and rape too often go unpunished, or are not even believed . At LSE we had the now infamous "Sexism at LSE" page, which anonymously reported several sexual assaults, most of which had been met with responses such as "you're the biggest slut here" or "that's just normal if you're a girl" from other LSE students. Evidently, rape culture exists here, and inviting Galloway to speak simply confirmed this.

Secondly, inviting people like Galloway to speak creates a hostile environment, particularly for those students who have been sexually assaulted or raped. It forgets for whom student unions exist (clue: it's in the name) and what their purpose is. Those who justify speakers like Galloway under the guise of "sparking debate" must question at whose expense this debate was had. "Freedom of speech" is another dubious justification, as it appears to have a peculiarly narrow definition for them. Freedom to have a rape denier speak is apparently important, but freedom for a rape survivor not to be triggered is irrelevant. All too often the voices of rape survivors and those who have been sexually assaulted are silenced in preference of controversial speakers who will pull in the wide-eyed crowds.

This was certainly the case at LSE. Galloway himself sneered at audience members who read questions from notes whilst his heavily pregnant wife, Russia Today presenter Gayatri Pertiwi, patrolled the audience, pointing the security guards to members of the crowd wearing "I 'heart' Consent" t-shirts, and standing over those who raised their hands. When I was called on by the Chair, Tony Travers, and requested that Galloway apologise for his comments on rape, she screamed at me: "Go away if you don't want to hear it". This was exactly the attitude of the organisers; if students didn't want to hear Galloway talk then they should simply not attend the event. It apparently didn't occur to them that given the hundreds of students who protested against Galloway's invitation, it was he who shouldn't attend.

You don't have to ban George Galloway from speaking; just don't invite him, or others like him, in the first place. Our students' unions are undoubtedly a place for lively academic debate, and for students to discuss real-world issues in a safe environment. However, inviting rape deniers and apologists voids this safe environment, and achieves very little other than to position students unions at the centre of rape culture. Rather than try to make yourself a name on campus by inviting such controversial speakers, make a name for your campus and take a stand against these people, and with rape survivors.