Two and a half years after #sciencesporcs, the scandal in which IEP students detailed sexual harassment they were subjected to by school peers and administration, just under 100 protesters gathered outside of campus on November 10 to protest what they perceived as Sciences Po’s inadequate response to sexual and gender-based violence (VSS). This demonstration, organised by several associations and the AER Student Union, was part of a wider action across all seven campuses (including the blocage of Sciences Po Paris).
Surrounded by students holding signs with statements such as “Victims Without Justice,” “Stop the Violation” and “Victim We Believe You,” four students gave speeches in French and English. The speeches outlined steps they feel that Sciences Po should take, along with grievances against the the university’s process in dealing with sexual harassment and abuse allegations. These points include Sciences Po’s long response times to emails, the “complicated process” victims undergo when filing reports, Sciences Po’s “lack of transparency” regarding the investigation process and “the worst punishment” a student could get being a forced transfer to another campus. The orators specifically noted a case on the Menton campus where a victim was reportedly forced to sit next to her aggressor in exams despite specific requests not to as well as investigations that lasted up to 15 months.
Lola, one of the representatives of feminist associations in Reims, expanded on this by highlighting specific examples of investigations. Some, she said, “took so long that students have already left for their third year” where consequences were unknown. Furthermore, she claimed that victims have been encouraged not to pursue an investigation if they have little remaining time at Sciences Po. The process is particularly difficult for cases involving non-French students, as Sciences Po’s VSS documents are written exclusively in French and translators are “untrained.” Moreover, Sciences Po fails to report allegations to exchange students’ home universities and the “excruciatingly long” reporting process effectively prevents exchange students from being held accountable before they leave Sciences Po.
Two American students involved in organizing the demonstration expressed how they felt Sciences Po’s process in dealing with sexual assault seemed “even worse” than American universities’ inadequate processes. “Sciences Po doesn’t do a good enough job of informing [foreign students] what to do if sexual harassment needs to be reported. If you search it up, there are some resources available. But, they’re in French so you have to get a general idea through Google Translate, which isn’t sufficient. It shouldn’t be our responsibility to find these resources. It’s Sciences Po’s responsibility. We come here with the expectation that they’re going to protect us because that’s what all universities do. Or at least should do,” they said.
To help solve these problems, five of the campus’s feminist associations released a list of steps they would like the school to take. These are separated into four categories: “Better support for victims,” “Better protection for victims,” “Better training for Sciences Po staff” and “Better prevention of sexual and gender-based violence.”
The first two include demands such as an introduction of a systematic attendance waiver for victims, legal support provided by Sciences Po at the victim’s request, financial support from Sciences Po to help contribute to costs of legal counsel and/or psychological resources and strict respect for the confidentiality of cases. The latter consist of demands for compulsory training on sexist and sexual violence approved by campus feminist associations, systematic dismissal of staff members who committed VSS violations and compulsory face-to-face training as part of the SGBV module at the beginning of every year.
In response to this demonstration and “discussions over the past months with representatives of the student community,” Sciences Po sent a mass email to students claiming they will create “a working group” that “will meet as of Monday, November 13 to work together on the priorities that have been identified.” The statement noted that Sciences Po “once again express[es] [their] strong and unequivocal commitment to combating sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV), as well as [their] dedication to working collectively on the reinforcement and continual improvement of the systems in place at Sciences Po.”
However, the Reimois student organisers have alleged that the administration, while claiming to be open to cooperation, was “very critical of the language of our communication and of the Parisian blocage.” They additionally asserted that they were asked by the administration to take down their petition, which at time of writing has accrued over 1200 signatures by Sciences Po students.
In defiance of the administration the organisations have decided that they will keep promoting their petition promoting their grievances and propositions for change. However, they will also meet with the administration and participate in the “Working group” that has been set up in Paris in response to the protests.
While the prospects of the movement remain uncertain, pressure is certainly mounting on the administration to take action. The movement was covered by a range of local and national media such as Libération, l’Union, France3, Francebleu, AEF info, Madmoizelle and more. Organisers have even appeared on radio shows discussing the event, and in Reims alone the demonstration was covered by over a half-dozen reporters. One thing is for sure: this movement for change, like the alleged delays in VSS investigations, is a problem that the administration can no longer afford to ignore.
For more information:
Locally: Politiqu’elles, Ignite, The Feminist Society and the AER.