Luca Demetriou argues that the media often ignore facts in favour of sensationalised storiesWritten by lucademetriou on 16th April 2019
Spotlight On: Student Safety
With crime frequent in Selly Oak, we asked Comment contributors to discuss the worrying levels of criminal activity in the area
"The ballot box will not provide an immediate solution to students’ woes"
By Sven Richardson
To a jaded third year, the words ‘dodgy’ and ‘Selly’ are practically synonymous. Whilst I personally have never been witness nor subject to any of the unpleasantness that seems rampant, the experiences of my housemates and the stream of information from Fab’N’Fresh provide me with more than enough material to keep me on edge whilst walking home.
In the last couple of weeks, events seemed to have reached fever pitch. Thefts, muggings and a near-fatal stabbing have left students questioning why they choose to live in such an area. But through the haze of anger, are we able to discern who is responsible for sorting Selly Oak out?
“The experiences of my housemates and the stream of information from Fab’N’Fresh provide me with more than enough material to keep me on edge whilst walking home
Students have looked to the University of Birmingham, asking that they extend their security services out to Selly Oak, drawing inspiration from the Universities of Bristol and Manchester. The Guild has taken this a step further, organising a petition that stands currently just shy of 7000 signatures, calling on the University to take more action, as well as calling upon local government too. Meanwhile, the police state that they are under-resourced and over-stretched, and that students should report all incidents to either 101 or 999 if they want the statistics to be representative of their experience.
This still leaves the question of whose responsibility the area of Selly Oak is. The root problem here is crime, and one can spend a lifetime studying its causes, effects and ways to combat it and still come no closer to addressing it. Perhaps then a cause and effect approach should be taken to analysing this subject. The primary cause, I would argue, is austerity, and whilst I could go on about the Conservative Party’s ideological myopicness, the point here is simple: the police have faced wave after wave of cuts, and the reduction in services and officer numbers has most probably contributed to the rise in crime. However, austerity’s effects on crime stem not only from police cuts, but from cuts to social programs too, specifically the closure of youth centres and rehabilitation schemes for offenders. After all, criminal and social justice are just two sides of the same coin.
“The primary cause, I would argue, is austerity
How do we go about combatting this? The Guild of Students has partially answered the question, with their petition calling upon the appropriate actors to do their part. The addition of the Selly Oak Express, whilst most welcome and not to be balked at, aids only a fraction of UoB’s student population. Whilst the Guild of Students acts as a representative of the voice and opinions of students, direct action should be taken by students individually too, and participating in local democracy will help ensure that their views are addressed. Moreover, if students were to perhaps act as better neighbours they might be viewed more favourably. Selly Oak is not the university’s responsibility, but as an institution our university has a duty of care to its students, and given that the vast majority of us move there means it needs to take a more active role. The ways it can do so are numerous, as the University of Birmingham holds a vast amount of power and should seek to use it’s contacts to better advocate for its students both regionally and nationally. It could also more actively engage with its local community. The considerable achievements of students who help in the local community must not be a substitute for the ways our university could be taking action, perhaps by focusing on ways in which research can be implemented to directly benefit local communities.
“Selly Oak is not the university’s responsibility, but as an institution our university has a duty of care to its students
The ballot box will not provide an immediate solution to students’ woes. The University of Birmingham values its reputation and income above all else, and continued protesting from unhappy students would hit them where it hurts.
Some have expressed their discomfort with continued displays of dissatisfaction, arguing that they don’t want to deter potential students from a place that they as current students love. I too love this university, but you cannot live in denial of the fact that there are rampant and glaring inadequacies in how the University of Birmingham provides for its students. For too long the Russell Group has rested on its laurels, letting others stride ahead in student satisfaction rates whilst their own students suffer in silence simply because the source of their degree is arbitrarily more reputable.
The power lies in your hands, students. Just make sure to use it responsibly.
"To put it bluntly, Selly Oak has lost its heart"
By Holly Pittaway
Following the recent stabbing which took place on Heeley Road in the early hours of the morning on 7th October, there has been an outpour of students calling for authorities to make Selly Oak safer. While some efforts have since been made, including an increase in police presence on the streets, and the launch of a night-bus that will make journeys from the library to Selly Oak after dark, crimes are still continuing to happen every day.
The reality is that the action taken by the university and local police has only scratched the surface of what is wrong in Selly Oak – the real problem is its community, or rather, lack of. I come from a long line of through-and-through Brummies and according to my grandmother, just a few decades ago Selly Oak was a ‘posh’ area, where many working-class people like herself just couldn’t afford to live; but now it’s a very different story.
Many will attack me for saying this as the student community within the area is very vibrant, with every road all the way from Selly Park to the outskirts of Bournville being inhabited by 18-24 year olds; but the massive influx of students in recent history has forced much of Selly Oak’s permanent community of families and locals out into surrounding neighbourhoods, while the students who have replaced them only remain in the area for perhaps a maximum of four years before following suit. Where houses used to be owned, they are now rented, meaning that many of the security fixtures that one might find in a family home such as burglar alarms, double-glazed windows and pick-proof locks are just not present.
“the massive influx of students in recent history has forced much of Selly Oak’s permanent community of families and locals out into surrounding neighbourhoods
Furthermore, in recent years Selly Oak and other parts of Birmingham have lost their primary community centres. Just taking a walk down the Bristol Road or one of the other Selly streets it is easy to see that most of the commercial spaces are taken up by dodgy fast-food restaurants, takeaways and estate agents – on my travels through Selly never once have I noticed a thriving community centre or Town Hall.
The lack of permanence and the loss of community in Selly Oak has thus created a hub for criminal activity. Those looking to make an easy bit of cash, steal a car, or break into a house will flock to Selly Oak because, ultimately, students are easy targets, and with a wealth of us being from well-to-do middle-class families, it’s obvious that there’s going to be a fair few iPhones, MacBooks, and more up for grabs.
To put it bluntly, Selly Oak has lost its heart, and if even its own community don’t care about it anymore, why should the rest of the world?
“Those looking to make an easy bit of cash, steal a car, or break into a house will flock to Selly Oak because, ultimately, students are easy targets
The future for this suburb looks very bleak– the University of Birmingham will no doubt continue to enrol more students every year, forcing more and more of us to expand our property search into the surrounding areas of Stirchley and Bournville, until these communities, become fully ‘studentised’ like Selly Oak is now. With this, the cycle of crime will continue, and will be exacerbated by government budget cuts to the Civil Service and allocation of university funds to meaningless vanity projects (like the Green Heart, or that ridiculous orange ball of carbon that recently graced our campus).
But what can be done, or indeed, can anything be done? That’s up to the students. It’s time to stop pointing fingers at the authorities and start looking around at the mess that we have created in this once affluent suburb of a wonderful city. It’s up to us to inject some community back into Selly Oak, and maybe then we can prevent it from fading completely into extinction.
"This is more of a national epidemic than one unique to Selly Oak"
By Jennifer McKay
With recent events in Selly Oak, there seems to have been a crescendo in which petitions and bold claims of negligence and anger have rippled through students on campus. One of the continual arguments I’ve heard regarding these events is that the university should not be paying for all the recent new developments and constructions on campus while crime remains this high.
However, this strikes me as one of the most stupid arguments regarding the subject. The definition of a university is, according to the Oxford English Dictionary, an institution of higher education, and all the members, colleges, buildings etc., having the power to confer degrees in mainly non-vocational subjects. With this in mind, the ability for the university to effectively educate its students and conduct the research which is expected of it, requires such state-of-the-art facilities as the new Collaborative Teaching Labs, the Engineering Building currently in the process of construction, and the new Main Library. I don’t see anywhere within the definition a particular duty to provide private security guards at the expense of teaching and research facilities.
This may seem cynical, but to me it just seems logical. If you are particularly worried about your security then it is yourself that should be searching for accommodation with private security services. Furthermore, it seems that the wrong people are being assigned the blame here. Is it not the police who should be blamed for crime rates? After all, even if private security was hired to patrol Selly Oak, the most they could do would be to call the police in the events of an incident. Therefore, all that would be happening is a third-party added into the mix with no real benefit and yet incurring tremendous costs to the university.
“If you are particularly worried about your security then it is yourself that should be searching for accommodation with private security services
I think it is also important to note that Selly is not isolated in its high crime rates as a student area. Back in my motherland of Sheffield, my Dad used to work closely with police to reduce business crime and so was continuously told about warnings police staff were given when dealing with student areas. Indeed, one officer was told to always wear a stab vest when investigating crime in the student areas. Perhaps then we might consider that this is more of a national epidemic than one unique to Selly Oak, and therefore we can’t blame the University for its lack of action. Simply one quick google of student area crime statistics ranks Birmingham 32nd for crime, according to the Complete University Guide’s list compounded from 2017’s police data. So possibly this should be considered before we start pointing fingers and accusing the university of mis-budgeting.
Once again though, the statistics for Selly Oak do not reflect the sense of fear I’ve continually heard about. Hence, it is very difficult for police to accurately know the extent of their presence needed in the area. There are a few different reasons for this; either the scaremongering of the Fab n Fresh Facebook page is greatly exaggerated, or people are not reporting crimes and so they are not joining statistics which inform the police of what is needed to be done. Therefore, can the police really be blamed if they are not even receiving reports?
“Either the scaremongering of the Fab n Fresh Facebook page is greatly exaggerated, or people are not reporting crimes and so they are not joining statistics which inform the police of what is needed to be done
The £606 million developments have been blamed by many students for a lack of funding to tackle the issue. Though I’ve already dissected the ridiculousness of private security and the need for the new developments, I think it’s important to also look at what students have requested repeatedly for many years and which the university are addressing in recent projects: study spaces.
The Green Heart has repeatedly been branded as ‘unnecessary,’ but I think this neglects the fact that the Green Heart is merely a by-product of the new library and it’s (guess what) study spaces! We can hardly expect the university to build the new Library, knock down the old one, and leave it at that. There is an essential element of landscaping, and with the university always seeking to improve their ecological effects it makes sense that they would plant 160 new trees, a range of wild flowers and nesting sites to improve biodiversity. Though this does seem to be a neglected fact.
Not to mention the fact that the recent events in Selly Oak are just that: recent. The university could hardly foresee the coming troubles when beginning the project in 2016 and can’t exactly go all Marty McFly and warn themselves to not start the project and instead spend millions on Selly Oak, an area they don’t even own.
Therefore, I think it’s necessary to look at the issue logically before immediately pointing fingers at the university. Instead, make sure you report all crimes to 101 (the non-emergency police phone number) and contribute to the crime statistics to help the police see where needs the most funding. And maybe take a moment to consider the funding going to the police when you come to vote in your next election, no matter if it is regional or national, as these are the people deciding on budgets for the police.
"I doubt these predators will stop if we ask them to"
By Kat Smith
‘Always stick to well-lit streets. If possible, let someone know when you are coming home and the route you are taking and always be alert in your surroundings, so don't use earphones or handheld devices’. This is the advice of DC Laura Avery that became the eye of a social media storm in the wake of a string of sexual assaults in Cricklewood, London. Viral tweets and campaigners branded the statement as victim-blaming, arguing that it put the responsibility on women rather than the perpetrators of sexual violence.
To me, the backlash is far from warranted. While it’s not the most ground-breaking advice I’ve ever seen, it’s not fair to paint the police with the same brush as misogynists who blame sexual assault victims for being provocative. I genuinely believe that the advice was not intended to say women are responsible for their safety but rather to help us as much as possible in a world where vulnerability is taken advantage of by criminals. It’s safe to say that none of us want to be victims of sexual violence and while I know it would never be my fault if I become one, I would much rather protect myself as much as possible.
“it’s not fair to paint the police with the same brush as misogynists who blame sexual assault victims for being provocative
Of course the ideal situation would be the internalisation of the message that men do not have a sense of entitlement to a woman’s body. But, it’s going to take time. I doubt these predators will stop if we ask them to... it seems almost comical to entertain the idea that they would.
Admitting that I would rather take preventative measures is not un-feminist. I am fully aware that my headphones, phone and late-night walks are not sexual predators. But I am also aware that these contribute to my vulnerability and can highlight me as a female who won’t necessarily realise she’s being followed. I would much rather pass on listening to a song that’s been in my head all day or ignore a text for another few minutes than put myself in that position – maybe this makes me lack defiance or a slave to the patriarchy, but I’d much rather not be naïve. I think it’s abhorrent that we women have to take these measures to try and not be targeted, but the sad fact is that if we want to stay safe sometimes we have to play the game.
“The sad fact is that if we want to stay safe sometimes we have to play the game
Offering self-defence classes is not an act of blaming women for being attacked because they can’t defend themselves. The Guild is not victim-blaming when they give us personal safety alarms or provide us with a bus that takes us home safely. Our male friends are not walking us home because they think it’d be our fault if we were attacked, but because they care about us. It is an act of self-care to ensure that we make ourselves as safe as possible against arseholes who will try to exploit our vulnerability.
The targeting of this advice as an example of ‘victim-blaming’ seems to trivialise cases where rape culture is certainly alive and well. If the police advice was ‘Don’t wear short skirts and don’t drink too much’ I would be behind the backlash, as policing women’s bodies is the last thing I am in favour of. But it wasn’t. The advice was issued to advise us on how to keep ourselves safe.
I would much rather keep myself as safe as possible and be able to defend myself if the worst happens, than to take a risk.