The Joint Forum: Partnership working to tackle sexual violence and harassment in Bristol

31 Jul 2017

Bristol's Joint Forum Against Sexual Violence and Harassment was established in July 2015. Forerunners of the group include the University of Bristol's Pro Vice-Chancellor Professor Judith Squires and the University of West England's Deputy Vice-Chancellor Professor Jane Harrington. Both are members of Bristol Women's Commission (BWC), a collective that brings women's voices together to share ideas and expertise, working towards achieving women's equality in Bristol.

 

In creating the Joint Forum, the founders have brought together: senior university staff; Students' Union representatives; Avon and Somerset Police; the local council; SARSAS and The Bridge – two charities that support survivors of rape and sexual violence; and the Bristol Zero Tolerance project (set up by BWC) that aims to make Bristol a city free from gender-based violence through a range of campaigns and initiatives. The group meet on a quarterly basis to agree upon, discuss and develop a series projects designed to tackle sexual violence and harassment in the city. Many of their initiatives also follow Universities UK guidance on improving support for students in relation to gender-based violence, harassment and hate crime.

 

Partnership working in this way allows the group to share knowledge and pool resources to more effectively understand and address these issues in Bristol. A key motivation for the founders in establishing the Joint Forum was their sense that it was not always clear how allegations of student sexual harassment and assault should be dealt with; for this reason they have sought to create a working relationship with local police, including having formal data-sharing agreements in place to help manage this issue.

 

As part of Joint Forum agreements, both universities have measures to help prevent sexual assaults on campus, including running sexual consent workshops and delivering the UniSmart presentation for all new students at the University of Bristol, and providing bystander training to students at the University of West England. The Bridge has also given specialised training to staff at both universities. Meanwhile, the University of Bristol SU are working with the NUS and SARSAS to develop support for sexual assault survivors in student communities, and they encourage students to get involved with Reclaim the Night – a women-only annual march that takes place in cities across the UK to take a stand against sexual violence. UWE SU are involved in initiatives including emergency taxi schemes, Late Night Do It Right (which puts together tips to help students have a fun and safe night out), and End it Now (where student volunteers raise awareness of sexual violence on campus by encouraging students to take a pledge to stand up to it). 

 

Bristol Zero Tolerance (BZT) have a number of projects underway to help keep the city's residents safe, including the large student population. They have collaborated with local activists to create 'call out' cards that individuals can hand to anyone who "make[s] another person feel uncomfortable or unsafe." Local businesses such as pubs, clubs and venues are also encouraged to sign up to the Bristol Zero Tolerance pledge; this requires them to get involved in staff training and awareness-raising initiatives with groups such as Good Night Out, Safe Gigs for Women and Drinkaware.

 

Over the summer, BZT's Street Harassment project will be gathering the views and

accounts of local people who have experienced street harassment. This will be done through an online survey, and an interactive map of the city that lets people pinpoint the location of the incident and add details such as the time, if it happened to them or if they witnessed it, and what took place. This enables the whole community to be involved in a 'community safety audit' and take a proactive role in challenging street harassment. The project is also calling for submissions of 'video testimonies' from those who have experienced or witnessed street harassment in Bristol. Taking inspiration from changes made in Nottingham (where misogyny is now recorded as a hate crime), the plan is to gather as much evidence as possible regarding the nature and extent of the problem, and to present this to Avon and Somerset Police in the autumn in the hope that they will follow in Nottingham's footsteps. This will also inform any changes or improvements that can be made to the city space (e.g. better lighting in 'hot spot' areas).

 

Most recently, Avon and Somerset Police have been involved in the #thisisnotanexcuse social media campaign; this included them circulating an unsettling video (below) in which 18 year old Lottie, from Bristol, talks to DCI Marie Wright about her frequent experiences of sexual harassment on a night out. The video importantly highlights how many people do not feel able to stand up to this behaviour, which is often normalised, and draws attention to accessible reporting options. It also offers reassurance that Avon and Somerset Police will take reports of sexual harassment seriously. The campaign received national coverage in a BBC article, helping to raise awareness of the issue and spread the word of this crucial work to an even wider audience.

 

The Joint Forum in Bristol is a great example of section 6 of the Student Harassment and Sexual Assault Instrument of the ProtectED Code of Practice. This requires members to develop a PSWP (ProtectED Safety and Wellbeing Partnership), working across internal departments and with external agencies to share experience, pool resources and streamline the support offered to students.

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