By Emma Pinckard and Hugo Harris
Durham University has responded to the publication of the UUK Taskforce report, which examines “violence against women, harassment, and hate crime affecting university students.”
The “Changing the Culture” report makes a number of recommendations for UUK and universities across the country, focusing significantly on methods of prevention and effective response because “all university students…are entitled to enjoy a safe and positive experience at university.
“UK universities have a duty to ensure that outcome.”
Set up in September 2015, the Taskforce has, over the course of 12 months, considered information provided by several universities, the National Union of Students, the Union of Jewish Students, Rape Crisis, Tell MAMA, and Stonewall.
The report demonstrates that many universities have already taken key steps towards addressing issues of violence against women and hate crime, but also that “not every university had all of the necessary building blocks in place for effective prevention and response.”
It also makes a series of recommendations in order to tackle the problem in universities both inside and outside the UK.
The report highlights the need to engage and interact with students to discuss matters of violence, harassment, and hate crime on a regular basis, and establish an environment that actively encourages students to talk.
It recommends using senior leadership, the police, specialist services, and community leaders to tackle these issues from multiple angles.
It also emphasises the impact that can be achieved through working with students’ unions in order to influence and effect change across all areas of a university, highlighting the desire to adopt an “institution-wide approach.”
In order to do this, UUK promote the necessity of having “effective governance, data collection, and staff training” in addition to “robust risk management and regular impact assessments.”
It also recommends ensuring that there are established and accessible ways for students to report incidents of this kind.
The report has been identified as “the completion of the first stage of what will be an ongoing programme of work for Universities UK,” highlighting that there are still many areas that must be given attention, particularly online harassment and hate crime.
It also raises concerns about the guidance available to universities when a student’s disciplinary offence may also be a criminal offence. It concluded that the existing guidance, the Zellick Report, requires review and a new report will be published in Autumn 2016.
Clare McGlynn, a Professor at Durham Law School with particular expertise on the legal issues involving violence against women, told Palatinate that “2016 marks a welcome departure from the outdated Zellick guidelines.
“We now have clear guidance that universities have legal obligations, arising from equality and human rights law, to investigate complaints of sexual violence and misconduct.
“It is important that when we consider sexual violence and misconduct within universities, we are talking about the whole of the university community and not only students.”
Professor McGlynn suggested that ‘‘the most important task now for Durham University is to speedily implement the recommendations of the Sexual Violence Taskforce, which focus on introducing new policies and practices, providing support, and undertaking prevention measures.’’
She added: ‘‘We have recognised that [sexual violence] is a serious issue that requires senior level commitment and resourcing, and we now need to follow-through on our commitments.
“The international university community is watching us; we need to live up to our reputation as leading in this area.”
Durham University itself made a significant contribution to the new ‘Changing the Culture’ report.
Its Sexual Violence Task Force (SVTF), a body founded in 2015 and chaired by Pro-Vice-Chancellor (Colleges and Student Experience) Professor Graham Towl, was cited by Universities UK (UUK) as an example of a high-level strategy currently underway that sought to prevent and respond to incidents of violence against women, harassment, and hate crime.
The SVTF, beginning their research from the perspective “that no person should suffer the effects of sexual violence or misconduct alone,” was specifically praised by the UUK for providing ‘‘invaluable’’ feedback on ideas to combat sexual violence.
Consultation of groups such as Nightline, It Happens Here, and the Feminist Society was said to have been crucial in order for this objective to be met.
The Sexual Violence and Misconduct Operations Group (SVMOG), subsequently established by Durham University to deliver the recommendations of the SVTF, had aimed and indeed have found the resources to introduce three main initiatives over the last six months.
These were set out in the SVTF’s final report in July, the very report which launched the University’s SVMOG itself.
These initiatives included a doubling of the amount of specialist support offered to students through the Rape & Sexual Abuse Counselling Centre (RSACC).
From the 1st May 2016, the University arranged the funding for a specialist counsellor, for two days and one evening per week, to be on site in the Counselling Service.
The second initiative has seen an increase in levels of staff and student training, “to ensure that, as a minimum, there will be a member of staff with specialist training in sexual violence in each college to respond to disclosures (of sexual violence).”
Finally, the SVMOG has overseen the appointment of a Student Support and Training Officer (Sexual Violence and Misconduct). This role, held by Clarissa Humphreys, is the “first of its kind in the country.”
It involves “supporting the work of the SVMOG, focusing particularly on the implementation and delivery of training in the first instance.”
A University statement expressed that “the recent Universities UK (UUK) report ‘Changing the Culture’ cited the positive work undertaken at Durham University and listed it as a case study.
“Many of the points made in the UUK report confirm the recommendations put forward by the SVTF.”
The University also noted that the “issue of sexual consent and respect towards others was discussed as part of the safety talks given to first year students during Induction Week and additional workshops and online modules that discuss consent are being developed.”
Separately, Durham Students’ Union Community Officer, Joanna Gower, stated at the latest SU Assembly: “I will change attitudes about sexual violence and harassment because all students have the right to live without fear.”
She announced that the Students’ Union is working on a collaborative campaign with the University to tackle issues of sexual violence and harassment. This includes working directly with the newly appointed specialist counsellor.
Gower also emphasised the need to focus specifically on education as a method of prevention to reduce the number of incidents at the University.
To identify specific areas of risk at the University, Gower also announced her desire to set up an online reporting system for sexual harassment, similar to “Hollaback.”
Hollaback allows users to add a pin to locations where they experience harassment, making it easier to identify and tackle the problem on a smaller scale.
Gower would use the system to create a “comprehensive picture of where hate crimes happen in Durham,” in order to identify and reduce race, disability, and religion based harassment by working with bars and clubs to ensure they have a zero tolerance policy.
She expressed that it is essential to raise awareness that these are not “one-off” incidents, and that it happens more often than many students are aware.
Image: It Happens Here