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How partnership-working can help universities tackle sexual violence


In March, Universities UK released the ‘one year on’ report, looking at progress made by universities in the wake of their 2016 Changing the Culture taskforce recommendations for dealing with violence against women, harassment and hate crime affecting university students.

The new report shows that although 'significant but variable' progress has been made by UK universities to embed change within their policies and processes, more needs to be done. Indeed, a 2018 national student survey by Revolt Sexual Assault revealed that 70% of female students say they have experienced sexual violence at university.

Despite the injection of funds to English HE providers from Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE) Catalyst calls, the recent UUK report identifies that finding sustainable funding sources is still a barrier for institutions seeking to align themselves with Changing the Culture recommendations. The task of delivering training to students and staff across larger institutions is also proving a challenge.

Recognising the need for universities to find effective and cost effective ways to support student safety and wellbeing, the ProtectED Code of Practice embeds an approach of partnership working: between university departments; between universities and external expert individuals and organisations; and between different universities. This facilitates the sharing of good practice (while reducing the risk of duplicating work), and the pooling of expertise, experience and resources.

At the University of Exeter Students’ Guild, the #NeverOk campaign has been operating since 2014, helping to educate the University community on what constitutes sexual harassment and on the support available for those affected by this behaviour. Established by the then-elected sabbatical team, those involved in implementing campaign initiatives have drawn upon external expertise, including that of local charity Devon Rape Crisis and Sexual Abuse Services (Devon Rape Crisis).

Devon Rape Crisis support those dealing with rape or sexual abuse, via a dedicated helpline, e-mails, and face-to-face meetings, as well as offering a counselling service for young women and men aged 13-25. The charity have been a referral option for the University for a number of years, and over the last year in particular, the two have collaborated on a range of initiatives to help change the culture on campus around incidents of sexual violence.

The Changing the Culture report recommends that universities “take meaningful steps to embed into their human resources processes (such as contracts, training, inductions) measures to ensure staff understand the importance of fostering a zero-tolerance culture and are empowered to take responsibility for this.” Mandy Barnes, a volunteer and training co-ordinator at Devon Rape Crisis has been working with the University of Exeter to provide twelve training sessions across a variety of groups, including heads of departments, student support services and Guild staff.