In recent years, particularly following some high-profile cases involving celebrities, there has been a substantial increase in the media’s interest in sexual violence. In turn, this appears to have contributed to the public’s decreasing tolerance of sexual offenders. This heightened awareness has undoubtedly contributed to a considerable increase in the number of reports of sexual offences to every police force area across the UK. The upshot is that a wide range of organisations (such as the BBC, Local Authority Children’s Services and the NHS) has begun to evaluate how well they respond to sexual violence.
Sexual violence within universities
Sexual violence occurring within the university environment has not escaped scrutiny. Indeed, a prevalence survey undertaken by the National Union of Students (NUS) identified shocking levels of sexual violence against women, with 1 in 4 reporting having experienced unwanted sexual advances whilst they were at university. This, in addition to a number of well publicised sexual offence cases affecting students in the UK, has lead to an increasing recognition that universities have an important role to play in preventing and protecting their students and staff from sexual violence. The creation of a new government Taskforce to tackle sexual violence against women on university campuses (chaired by Universities UK and introduced by the Department for Business Innovation and Skills) means there has never been more focus on universities to ensure they respond appropriately to sexual violence involving their students or staff.
As part of this recognition of responsibility, the University of Greenwich and Keele University separately approached LimeCulture Community Interest Company (CIC) with a request to assist them to develop a comprehensive sexual violence strategy for their respective universities. LimeCulture CIC is a specialist training and development organisation focusing on improving the response to sexual violence. As well as providing training to frontline professionals (such as Doctors, Police, Counsellors, Independent Sexual Violence Advisers) in order to improve their competence and confidence to support victims of sexual violence they also have vast experience of working to support both public organisations and private companies to improve their overall response. LimeCulture CIC, therefore, is well placed to support HEIs to ensure that they can fulfil their duties in the aftermath of a sexual assault – whether it takes place on or off campus, whether or not it is reported to the police, or indeed whether it happened recently or not.
Supporting HEIs to respond to sexual violence
As part of the strategic work that LimeCulture CIC has undertaken separately with the two Universities to assist them to develop sexual violence strategies, the value of collaboration between universities became clear. Universities, although they might be quite different in their ethos and approach, have exactly the same responsibilities to respond appropriately to any student or staff member who experiences sexual violence. Over and above supporting a victim in relation to their educational needs, all universities also need to consider the wider support needs of a victim following a sexual assault. This might include access to a forensic medical examination, psychological therapies and mental health support or, indeed, sexual health services. It could also include a police investigation and potentially a court case. All universities will need to ensure that they have acted appropriately and their involvement has not done anything to undermine a criminal prosecution or contaminate evidence relating to the sexual offence. Furthermore, staff could potentially be called as witnesses in a trial, so robust record keeping will need to be in place to account for any involvement the university has had in relation to a sexual assault.
In addition to their victim-care responsibilities, all universities will also have to consider their responsibilities for any staff or student member who is accused of committing a sexual assault. This may involve carrying out an investigation internally, it might mean implementing polices and procedures to remove or suspend the accused and could include reviewing whether the university could have done anything to prevent the assault by way of safeguarding.
As part of the work LimeCulture CIC is undertaking to support both the University of Greenwich and Keele University, it has become clear that the responsibilities of a university are significant and extremely complex. Coupled with the current increased focus on tackling sexual violence in universities, the stakes for HEIs to get their responses right could not be higher.
Creating specialism within universities
The developmental work underway in Greenwich and Keele has involved aligning and creating new policies and procedures to ensure their organisational responses to sexual violence are appropriate. Both universities are committed to raising awareness and upskilling their staff in order to implement these sexual violence strategies. However, the work they are doing with LimeCulture CIC has highlighted the complexity surrounding sexual violence, and specifically the need for the universities to consider not just the educational needs, but a response that also includes the health and social care aspects, as well as consideration to the legal implications. Both universities have realised that in order to respond appropriately and fulfil their responsibilities to either the victim or the accused, there is a need to create a specialism within their workforces. This specialism will be achieved by identifying key staff members whose role it will be to respond on behalf of the university where sexual violence is disclosed, reported or suspected.
Together, LimeCulture CIC, Greenwich and Keele are now developing a new accredited training programme to provide key university staff-members with the appropriate knowledge and skills required in order to ensure the response from the university is appropriate.
This new course will provide university staff members with enhanced awareness and understanding of sexual violence, including understanding the impact and needs of victims, how to work in partnership with other agencies involved (including the police) and how and when to make referrals to external support services. The course will also focus on the legal implications of sexual violence and the court process, including internal investigations and what is required from the university. The course will be available to staff-members from all universities and HEIs in the UK.
The course will take place in the autumn (dates and course location will be announced shortly) and will be open for bookings soon. However, if you would like to express an interest in attending the course, please email firstname.lastname@example.org and a booking form will be sent to you.