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Consent Matters: How can online training help tackle sexual violence on campus?

In the wake of the NUS Hidden Marks report, which highlighted the immensity of the sexual harassment problem in UK universities, Business Secretary Sajid Javid called on Universities UK to set up a task-force in 2015, aimed at combatting violence against women on university campuses.

We at Epigeum looked at the available resources on the subject, and realised there was a real need for good quality learning materials for students, especially in the area of bystander intervention. We felt we could help with this need, drawing upon our experience in creating learning tools for higher education. We knew that existing workshops were difficult to scale, and that students were restricted in time. As a result, we started working on Consent Matters: an interactive and flexible online course covering the areas of consent, communication and relationships, bystander intervention, and support pathways. By this point, we had been developing interactive online courses for 10 years – the company, now part of Oxford University Press, was founded in 2005 as a spin-out from Imperial College London.

Given the sensitive nature of the project, it was vital that we had the best people on board. Consent Matters was authored by Brook — the sexual health and wellbeing charity, who have a wealth of experience on the subject, and Dr. Alan Berkowitz, who is renowned in the field of bystander intervention research. Dr. Berkowitz had already consulted for similar projects in the US.

The project attracted a great deal of interest from the start: our review panel included academics from the fields of psychology, law, gender studies, student services experts and most importantly — students.

Student input proved invaluable: the student reviewers gave honest, constructive feedback on the content plans and drafts, and we made numerous changes to the original plans as a result. We also interviewed students for the animations and interactive activities that occur throughout the course. The ‘student voice’ is something we find to be one of the most important aspects of the course, and we continue to encourage students to submit feedback through an optional course survey.