This paper draws on current research being undertaken as part of the European Commission co-funded ‘Universities Supporting Victims of Sexual Violence’ project (USVSV). Grounded in long-standing research by members of the team, the project aims to enhance the ability of university staff to respond to disclosures of sexual violence (SV) from students. The project includes thirteen universities across seven European countries. This paper focuses on the research being conducted at one university in England and is, therefore, situated within a UK context.
Conversations about sexual harassment and misconduct in the higher education (HE) sector are becoming more visible globally, alongside a related rise in student feminist activity (Hilton, 2013) and recent media and policy interest. University students and young women are especially at risk of gendered and sexual violence (Bigila and Velasco; 2012; Feltes et al., 2012; Marshall, 2014; Phipps and Smith, 2012; Schroeder, 2014). Additionally, in the UK and other European countries, students are an under-served population in terms of support services (Feltes et al., 2012; Phipps and Smith, 2012; Sundaram, 2014). This led to work such as the survey by the UK’s National Union of Students (NUS, 2010) that reported a high prevalence of sexual harassment and violence against women at university, revealing that only 4 per cent of women students who had experienced serious sexual assault reported this to their university. In a follow-up report (NUS, 2013; Phipps and Young, 2015) it was suggested that conventional modes of competitiveness and misogyny were being shaped by neoliberal consumerist and sexual values in the university environment. A Universities UK (UUK) taskforce which formed in response to the NUS research acknowledged that whilst some students had ‘experienced episodes of harassment, hate crime, or sexual violence’, there was a concern that ‘their university may not always have responded effectively’ (Universities UK, 2016:1). A lack of clear institutional procedures, care pathways and appropriate support can produce secondary victimisation amongst students who experience this violence (Orchowski and Gidycz 2012, Phipps & Smith, 2012). There is also an international consensus that effective victim identification, care and support programmes can contribute towards reducing violence (World Health Organization, 2014). In recognition of this, the taskforce report repeatedly urged for a ‘systematic institutional response, including an institution-wide reporting procedure’ (2016:37). It is in this context that the research developed.
The research question considered in this paper is ‘what constitutes an effective programme to support staff receiving disclosures of sexual violence from university students?’. The university programme, that has been developed in-house, is to support ‘first responders’ in how to recognise SV victims/survivors and support students after disclosure, ensuring that they are treated with respect, dignity and sensitivity to their specific needs, and have access to criminal justice avenues if they wish. The programme has been developed with a large steering group, consisting of staff from a range of academic, managerial and welfare roles, as well as current students. The group has met monthly to discuss the national and local context and design the programme. This has been key to developing an institutionally relevant programme. The evaluation of the programme contribute’s towards a more supportive and knowledgeable university environment concerning issues of sexual violence and harassment. The findings of the research benefit (potential) victims/survivors of sexual violence, contribute to the development of a sustainable approach to staff and institutional recognition of these matters, as well as ensuring that ‘first responders’ are well informed and adequately supported throughout the disclosure process.
Biglia, B. and Velasco, A. (2012) Reflecting on an academic practice to boost gender awareness in future schoolteachers, Educação, Sociedade & Culturas (ESC), 35, pp. 105-128. Feltes, T., Balloni, A., Czapska, J., Bodelon, E. and Stenning, P. (2012) Gender-based Violence, Stalking and Fear of Crime. Bochum: Ruhr-Universitat Bochum. Griffiths, M. (1995) Feminisms and the Self: The Web of Identity. London and New York: Routledge. Hilton, E. (2013) Is ‘lad culture’ causing a surge in student feminist societies? The Guardian, 8 May. Liamputtong, P. (2007) Researching the vulnerable: a guide to sensitive research methods. London: Sage. Marshall R. (2014). Will it really SaVE you? Analyzing the Campus Sexual Violence Elimination Act. Legislation and Policy Brief, 6, 271-293. NUS (2010) Hidden Marks: A Study of Women Students’ Experiences of Harassment, Stalking, Violence and Sexual Assault. London: NUS. NUS (2013) That’s What She Said: Women Students’ Experiences of ‘Lad Culture’ in Higher Education. London: NUS. Orchowski, L. & Gidycz, C. (2012) To Whom Do College Women Confide Following Sexual Assault? A Prospective Study of Predictors of Sexual Assault Disclosure and Social Reactions, Violence Against Women, 18(30) pp. 264-288. Parlett, M. and Hamilton, D. (1972) Evaluation as Illumination: a new approach to the study of innovatory programs. London: Nuffield Foundation. Phipps, A. and Smith, G. (2012) ‘Violence against women students in the UK: time to take action’, Gender and Education, 24 (4) pp. 357-373. Phipps, A. and Young, I. (2015) ‘Neoliberalisation and ‘Lad Cultures’ in Higher Education’, Sociology, 49(2) pp. 305 –322. Schroeder, L. P. (2014) Cracks in the Ivory Tower: How the Campus Sexual Violence Elimination Act Can Protect Students from Sexual Assault, 45, Loyola University Chicago Law Journal. 1195. Sundaram, V. (2014) Preventing Youth Violence: Rethinking the Role of Gender and Schools. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan UK. Universities UK (2016) Changing the Culture: Report of the Universities UK Taskforce examining violence against women, harassment and hate crime affecting university students. London: Universities UK. Word Health Organisation (2014) Violence Against Women, World Health Organisation. http://who.int/mediacentre/factsheets/fs239/en/
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