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Tackling sexual harassment and violence

How higher and further education institutions can protect their students from harassment and abuse.

Higher and further education institutions have a responsibility to protect their students from harassment and abuse.

There has recently been considerable press coverage of student sexual harassment and sexual violence, in particular on university campuses. Students, campaign groups, the NUS and MPs have called for universities and the HE sector to put in place policies and practices that will ensure the safety of all students.

In May 2015 ECU hosted a sector roundtable to discuss these issues, as well as the related issue of lad culture. ECU brought together a range of interested organisations and individuals from the sector with the following aims.

  • Sharing the work that is already happening within the sector to tackle these issues.
  • Identify if there are areas where we could collaborate and support each other’s work.
  • Identify any gaps in tackling these issues, and discuss how to address identified gaps in provision, and who might be best placed to take this work forward.

In November 2015 Universities UK established a taskforce to examine violence against women, harassment and hate crime affecting students. Violence against women and sexual harassment is a key focus of the taskforce.

Examples of emerging practice

ECU’s roundtable and UUK’s taskforce have both highlighted that there is already a lot of work taking place within institutions, including consent workshops and zero tolerance campaigns.

For institutions keen to undertake work in this area, and learn from the efforts of other institutions, there are some examples of emerging practice below.

More information and next steps:

If you have examples of good practice from your institution in the area of tackling sexual harassment and violence on campus, and are willing for ECU to share this on our website, please contact Gemma Tracey, senior policy adviser.

Collaboration with students’ unions >

It is worthwhile noting that a number of institutions are undertaking work in this area together with their students’ unions. For example, at Oxford University consent workshops are delivered in each of the institution’s colleges by trained facilitators from the students’ union. King’s College London worked together with KCLSU to develop the ‘It stops here’ pledge and campaign.

ECU recommends adopting a similar collaborative approach in this area.

Research and background >

In recent years NUS has conducted research into the issues of lad culture, harassment and violence at universities.

  • That’s what she said: Women students’ experiences of lad culture in higher education, NUS, 2012
  • Hidden marks: A study of women students’ experiences of harassment, stalking, violence and sexual assault, NUS, 2011
  • NUS lad culture audit: An analysis of existing policies, training, education and support services in place within students unions and institutions to tackle lad culture. The findings are the result of an audit conducted by NUS between December 2014 and February 2015.
Consent workshops >
Workshops for staff >

Alison Phipps, reader in sociology and director of the Centre for Gender Studies, University of Sussex, has developed an awareness-raising workshop on the issues of lad culture, sexual harassment and violence against students.

This workshop is targeted at university staff and managers, and the resources can be accessed online.

Bystander intervention >

A bystander is a person who observes a conflict or unacceptable behaviour. It might be something serious or minor, one-time or repeated, but the bystander knows that the behaviour is destructive or likely to make a bad situation worse.

An active bystander takes steps that can make a difference. This ranges from not going along with the inappropriate behaviour – not laughing at an inappropriate joke for example – to actively challenging or intervening to stop discriminatory behaviour.

Bystander intervention programs teach potential witnesses safe ways that they can act to prevent or intervene when there is a risk of sexual harassment or violence.

The Intervention Initiative is a free resource, with an educational toolkit, for universities and colleges to use in their work to prevent sexual coercion and domestic abuse. It is an evidence-based educational programme and was developed in 2014 by the University of the West of England, with a grant from Public Health England.

Strategy for addressing sexual and domestic violence >

Rachel Fenton and Helen Mott from the University of the West of England have developed a strategy for addressing sexual and domestic violence in universities. This was developed for Public Health England and includes both a university-led and student-led aspect.

Bangor University’s collaborative and comprehensive approach >

Maria Lorenzini, Director of Student Experience at Bangor University, provides information on the approach being taken at Bangor to tackle the problems of harassment and violence:

'At Bangor, we have taken a collaborative approach to developing support and awareness raising around issues of sexual consent, sexual harassment and assault. We have worked closely with North Wales Police, our local sexual assault referral centre and local rape and sexual abuse centre in a number of ways. Together, we have developed a training programme for our halls wardens ensuring that they have an in-depth understanding of the legal context for sexual consent, understand how to avoid damaging victim-blaming attitudes, and know how best to support students in cases of disclosure of sexual assault and rape.

This training has also been provided to student services staff, security staff and our senior tutors. The training is supported by the distribution of awareness-raising posters and leaflets across campus to ensure that students understand the law around sexual consent and are aware of their local sexual assault referral centre.

We have also worked across the region with North Wales Police on a poster campaign that tackles rape myths and encourages reporting. The poster campaign has been distributed not only across HE/FE campuses, but within the local communities.

Bangor has introduced a university zero tolerance to student harassment policy to encourage students to report all forms of harassment and to ensure that all staff understand their responsibilities should they witness or receive reports of student harassment.

All of our work in these areas is in collaboration with our students’ union who lead on the peer-led aspects of awareness raising among our students. We continue to develop work in these areas as an ongoing commitment to ensuring a safe and inclusive university campus at Bangor.'