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Redbrick Investigates: Response To Selly Attacks
Redbrick News' Emily Darby investigates how students are feeling following the recent wave of violent crime in Selly Oak and how the university, the police and the Guild have responded
Crime has been a major concern for students in Selly Oak and an issue that has spiralled in recent years. With each coming year, there are worrying rises in reports of muggings, attacks and robberies to a point where crime has become an accepted and inherent part of living in the student area.
With the University having released a series of warnings for students walking home and a ‘guide’ to returning home safer last week, it is time to dive into the truth of Selly’s crimewave and ask: who needs to take responsibility?
Official West Midlands Police statistics show that in the period of December 2015 to November 2016 there were 296 incidents of Violent Crime in Selly Oak. Since May 2013, this category has included sexual offences.
The issue of attacks on university students has propelled to unsettling heights this year. The latest occurred on Friday 19th January, when an 18 year-old student fell victim to an assault on Church Road, Edgbaston - a road that leads to the Vale, which is home to 3,500 Birmingham students.
Police responded to this particular attack by saying: ‘We have stepped up uniformed and plain clothed patrols in the area and, a week on from the assault, are asking people if they saw anything. We are also asking young people to be vigilant when returning home late at night. We ask that you walk home with friends or take a taxi for safety.’
A similar response by the authorities was given when a string of linked attacks took place before Christmas, in which an attacker wearing a Yoda mask forced a student to perform a sex act on him - the fifth attack in that week alone. The assaults ranged from one woman being threatened with a knife to another being attacked by a masked criminal holding a firelighter.
‘These are extremely serious attacks and we have placed a large number of resources into catching the offender,’ the police said in a statement at the time. ‘We are also asking young women to be vigilant when returning home late at night.’
“'Asking girls to be vigilant is absolutely not enough'
With reports of attacks increasing yet again as the new year gets off to a start, it seems that being ‘vigilant’ is far from an effective and sufficient way of preventing the attacks. Patrols of police officers have visibly increased in Selly Oak, but are failing to provide a feeling of safety among students who still warn their peers of suspicious and scary characters harassing young women.
With many left feeling unprotected by police measures, posts have flocked into the Fab N Fresh Facebook page as students try to warn their peers with reports of suspicious-looking men who are lurking in the area.
Stevie Chandler, a second year Psychology student who has witnessed first-hand the attacks, told Redbrick how a man approached her, blocking the path with his arms wide open and ‘creepily’ inviting her to a hug. ‘It’s scary because you don't know what he intends to do next’ she said. ‘Asking girls to be vigilant is absolutely not enough, I wasn't drunk I wasn't on my phone and I wasn't far from my house.’
Chandler felt that raising the alarm on Facebook is the quickest and most effective way to warn people about the situation. ‘After ringing the police I think it's important to post on Facebook as it’s the easiest way to get girls to know in the here-and-now in the hope that they either take a taxi or walk with a friend,’ she said. ‘Much quicker than a police statement to be coming out.’
While she felt reassured that there was an increased presence of police patrols, she reiterated that a larger presence is still needed. ‘That did make me feel a lot better,’ Chandler said, ‘but I would still feel a lot safer seeing an increase in visible patrols.’
“'I actually got grabbed by a man when I was walking home back in November'
On the second week of term the university distributed ‘Top tips’ on how to stay safe when walking home to every student’s email inbox. The advice includes: ‘Go out in a group and come home in a group’, ‘Do not walk with earphones in’ and even tells students how to walk, saying, ‘Walk briskly and with confidence’.
Whilst the University is responding to the issues, some criticisms have been made regarding the advice that can be seen as ridding students of their independence. While it may be safer to ‘Never go to the cashpoint alone’ it is not seen as an appropriate response for everybody, as it sacrifices autonomy for safety advice that may not even be effective.
Katie Logie, a second year Drama and Theatre Arts student who has also witnessed some attacks, told Redbrick that she believes that the response so far has not been enough. ‘Telling girls to be 'vigilant' is not enough,’ she said. ‘Yes, handing out alarms is good, but they need to go further. I don't necessarily know what the further steps should be but realistically something needs to change and it's so important that it does’.
Shedding further light on the situation, Logie shared her personal experiences with Redbrick. ‘I actually got grabbed by a man when I was walking home back in November, and had a lot of boys commenting on my posts taking the piss out of the situation, as well as girls,’ she said.
‘Coming from a girl who has experienced an attack and the comments, it made my time a lot worse and in all honesty, I wasn't going to report it to the place,’ Logie said. ‘After some convincing I did report my incident, which is now recorded by the police as assault, and they believed it was linked to a series of rapes back in first term.’
Logie referred to the common situation where a Facebook post will go up about suspicious behaviour, a suspicious looking character, or an incident that has happened, warning girls to be careful and walk in groups. In response, several students will often tag their friends, ‘jokingly’ suggesting their mate is the ‘sketchy-looking’ criminal.
“'The safety of girls walking home at night is not a joke'
This sort of incident has invited a backlash and controversy recently, even provoking a Tab article denouncing the behaviour. In her article entitled, ‘‘Lads’, stop making light of assault in Selly Oak’, Gemma Abrahams, a second year Political Science student, condemned the ‘lad’ behaviour. In it, she wrote that she was appalled by this behaviour.
‘The safety of girls walking home at night is not a joke. The issue is that they can’t put themselves in our shoes,’ she continued. ‘They don’t have to arrange their evening around being walked home. They don’t have to pay out the extra money to take a taxi simply because they don’t have the liberty of walking home without someone touching them inappropriately or shouting in their faces.’
Abrahams, also wrote about girls who add to the problem by ‘jokingly’ tagging their friends and trivialising the attacks too. ‘What’s worse is that it’s not just ‘lads’ that comment. Girls comment too, tagging their friends or boyfriends, joking at the expense of girls who are posting’.
Evidence of these ‘jokes’ aren’t hard to find on the social media website. Tagging their friends, a few examples of the comments on one post read: ‘Was this you again?’ ‘For god sake, *****, we've talked about this’, another tags his friend and comments ‘You need stop this mate’.
“'I most definitely do not feel safe in Selly Oak'
While there doesn’t seem to be any malice intended by the comments, which seem to be reflective of the increasingly prominent ‘lad culture’ among students, the comments are insensitive to those who have been victim to the attacks and it seems, above all, unnecessary to make light of the situation for the price of a cheap laugh.
Speaking to Redbrick, Abrahams shared her final thoughts on the issue is. ‘I most definitely do not feel safe in Selly Oak – my friends and I agree that crime in Selly randomly peaks throughout the year and the last few weeks have felt like a peak,’ she said. ‘The fact that we have to watch my friend walk 10 houses down the road and into her house safely before we go back into our own house shows how ridiculous the level of crime has gotten.’
The Guild, who have linked the inappropriate Facebook comments to their Not On Campaign pitched their safety tips. Housing & Community Officer Izzie Nicholds dedicated a blog page to the issue with practical advice. ‘I’m writing this blog as an appeal to all students to be diligent when walking home at night,’ it begins. ‘I know many of us are worried about our personal safety at the moment and it would be silly of me to give you advice on things you already know’.
“'Starting from January, I will be initiating peer-led walking buses home from the Library'
Tips featured in the blog included carrying personal safety alarm, walking in well-lit areas and to avoid taking short-cuts down dimly lit side roads. Speaking from the perspective of a Housing Officer, Nicholds stated that it would not sit well with her if students felt unsafe and proposed upcoming initiatives to tackle the issue.
‘Starting from January, I will be initiating peer-led walking buses home from the Library,’ she wrote. ‘These will be running from 10pm-to early hours of the morning, depending when you finish studying. I will be working with our student Community Wardens next term to bring you a practical safety event where you get given tips about staying safe.’
Ju-jitsu classes of self-defense were also mentioned, posters for which can be found throughout campus, though there seems to be little evidence to suggest that the walking bus scheme is in place as of yet.
The police have responded by saying that they are taking the attacks very seriously and enforcing measures to prevent them. In a statement, they said: ‘Extra patrols continue in the area and anyone who has information should call police immediately on 101 or Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555 111.’
It’s clear to see that the university and the police feel strongly about the issue and are taking it seriously. By stepping up patrols and giving helpful advice they claim to be doing the most they can. Meanwhile, the Guild have adopted safety as a key focus for their next campaign while students, the targets of the crime, try their best to warn their peers with whatever resources they have.
However, we can see that whatever measures that are being taken are making little progress, as was previously quoted in this article, ‘something needs to change and it's so important that it does.’ The student message is clear: students still don’t feel safe in Selly Oak.