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Bystander Training: Encouraging peer-to-peer support to tackle student sexual harassment


When DrinkAware released the results of its poll of student experiences on a night out, it added to an ever-growing body of evidence that points towards a serious problem with sexual harassment and assault at UK universities. This includes the NUS 'Hidden Marks' report findings that 68% of female students had experienced verbal or physical sexual harassment at university, and the Guardian's investigations into the 'scandalous' levels of sexual harassment and gender violence being perpetrated by university staff.

DrinkAware’s survey of over 2000 students aged 18-24, from universities throughout the UK, found that over half (54%) of female students in this age group had experienced sexual harassment (inappropriate touching, comments or abuse) whilst socialising – 51% reported this to be a regular occurrence on most, or all, nights out. The survey also found that 15% of male students had experienced inappropriate or unwanted sexual comments and touching.

The ProtectED Code of Practice specifically addresses this issue in indicator 3.1.2 of the Student Harassment and Sexual Assault Instrument. This indicator encourages partnership working between the university and external organisations and venues to help ensure that students are safe and well-supported on a night out, and to pool valuable knowledge and resources. The objective of 3.1.2. is to ensure that staff in venues frequented by students are trained to recognise and address harassment and sexual assault, and to assist vulnerable adults. It also responds to important recommendations made by the Universities UK Changing the Culture Taskforce Report (2016) to address violence against women, harassment and hate crime affecting university students. The report states that:

“Universities should embed a zero-tolerance approach across all institutional activities including outreach activities with schools and further education colleges, engagement with local bars and nightclubs […]” (p.58)

When the ProtectED team began looking into some of the good practice currently being undertaken to help address sexual harassment and assault in the night-time economy, they came across the work of UK police officer of over 30 years, Graham Goulden. For the last eight years, Graham has been a Chief Inspector working with the Scottish Violence Reduction Unit, with a particular interest in preventative approaches to sexual violence and domestic abuse.

Through the Unit, Graham offers ‘bystander training’ for pub and club staff to help prevent people becoming victims of rape. The one-hour training session involves raising awareness of sexual violence and consent. Participants are encouraged to imagine issues of sexual harassment and assault occurring in their own lives, to people they know, allowing them to more realistically imagine their natural reactions. Graham then plays a dramatised film - entitled Who Are You? - that follows a female protagonist on a night out and shows the lead-up to her being sexually assaulted, but first, Graham issues a warning:

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