In the last twelve months, we have seen sexual harassment and sexual violence creep up the worldwide agenda. From the allegations against Harvey Weinstein, to the outrage in the UK parliament regarding the alleged harassment of staff members, to the trial and sentencing of former USA gymnastics team doctor Larry Nassar the world has undoubtedly changed in its attitudes towards sexual violence. This has also been reflected within UK universities and in their attitudes towards harassment and violence occurring on campuses.
In the past three years, we have witnessed an unprecedented change in the way universities handle sexual violence. Many institutions now have specific policies relating to sexual violence and harassment, and those that do not are actively in the process of creating policies. This academic year we have seen the piloting of online reporting tools to provide a new way to take disclosures from students. We have also witnessed an incredible wave of student activism, with passionate students creating events and running workshops to help support and educate their peers. This has all been supported by Universities UK’s “Changing the Culture” report which has helped to provide evidence and recommendations as to how institutions can begin to challenge this issue on their campuses.
In the past three years the sector has undoubtedly moved forward in the ways in which it tackles sexual violence and harassment. Whilst it is important to look to the future, it is also important to look to the past and to see how far the sector has come. However, there is undeniably still more work that needs to be done in tackling this issue at university.
As a sector we need to look at how we can better support students when taking disclosures, and at the aftercare that we provide both to those who receive disclosures and to those making them. Universities also need to ensure that support is available to students in instances where the survivor wishes to undertake criminal proceedings against the alleged perpetrator, or where an internal university disciplinary procedure is in progress. We also need to look at how we can empower student leaders in becoming outspoken advocates for consent education on campuses; we shouldn’t overlook the crucial role of our student leaders in creating cultural and attitudinal change within our universities. Finally, we also need to consider how we can prevent sexual violence and harassment from occurring on our campuses in the first place, so that no student need ever say “me too” ever again.
Carys Page will deliver a presentation at the Combatting Sexual Harassment in Higher Education Conference on March 27th. Register your interest in the event – here.