By Dom Smithies (Community & Wellbeing Officer)
It’s Sexual Abuse and Sexual Violence Awareness Week and we all need to be loud and clear in saying #ITSNOTOK!
Last week I wrote a blog on where we’re at with the Mental Health agenda. I was able to go through the context & history, what’s going on and what still needs to be done. I was able to write the blog in a mere couple of hours. Now, I’m sat staring at my screen trying to find the words to talk about Sexual Violence & Sexual Abuse at University and it’s a challenge like no other. It’s not because they’re not hugely serious and sensitive issues which I talk about on a daily basis - in meetings, policy development or campaign planning. But rather because this is an issue that’s very real and it has a massive impact on our students.
Throughout my time in office I’ve had dozens of students come forward to me to disclose being victims of sexual violence (both recent and historic). Some because they don’t know where to go to report it or for support (which is worrying) and some because they’ve been empowered and want to do something about it (which is great). Knowing where to start and what to do can be difficult when the issue is so taboo and when confidentiality is so important, so to highlight the support and reporting mechanisms that are available to them is a challenge. So, for those reading, I hope this blog serves its purpose in outlining what’s going on around the Union & Uni, where support is available, how you can report things and what you can do.
During my time at University I’ve seen a lot of work and efforts around the issue of sexual violence, and it’s been on the agenda of many Officers and campaigners across campus. We’ve seen work on ‘lad culture’ in the past that resulted in more training for bar staff, and lots of sports clubs have been working hard on tackling the issues, such as with initiations and the huge involvement with and development of the Equal Opportunities scheme Clubs have been delivering really positive campaigns - like the Women’s Rugby club are at the moment with their policy proposals around domestic violence, linking up with IDAS (Independent Domestic Abuse Service) and their amazing work with the #ITSNOTOK campaign that got picked up by the local press.
But sexual violence is not an issue exclusive to the challenges of lad culture. More work can be done around tackling the negatives of lad culture, but they cannot be looked at in isolation when addressing sexual violence.
At the start of this year we saw our Women’s Officers, in conjunction with Survive, delivered consent talks to all incoming students to talk about their legal rights, sexual health and where they can seek support if they are of have been a victim of sexual violence - the response from students was overwhelmingly positive and you can see my blog about the talks here.
Further, Universities UK released the report from the taskforce on tackling gender based violence, providing guidance for for Higher Education Institutions on dealing student misconduct - particularly sexual violence and hate crime. You can see the report here.
We’ve also seen, this year, the Istanbul Convention - “the most comprehensive legal framework that exists to tackle violence against women and girls” - pass through the second reading of the House of Commons and the next step is getting MPs to turn up on the 24th of February.
So what’s going on with the University and in the Union to support work around sexual violence and sexual abuse?
The Women’s Rugby Club submitted a policy proposal to get YUSU to support campaigning around combating domestic abuse. This means, if it passes, that YUSU will support campaigns and initiatives run by students around challenging domestic abuse as well as being mandated to lobby the university to improve their systems and services so they're fit-for-purpose and serving students as best as possible. We’ll be hearing the results of the consultation this week!
If you have an idea or want to submit a policy proposal, you can do so here: /representation/ideas
YUSU’s Advice and Support Centre (ASC) have been working with local sexual violence and domestic abuse services to inform working practices on responding to students who raise these issues with the service including:
Implementing ‘first response’ guidelines for advisors, and providing clear signposting and referral pathways, including providing practical assistance to students with referral processes
Improving the provision of information and resources for students
Providing local community services with confidential meeting space within ASC for appointments with students
Attendance of sexual violence training and the development of additional and complementary training for advice staff on related issues
In response to the Universities UK report and pressure from the SU to address the guidelines the University have set-up a working group to review their current policies and procedures around sexual violence. I sit on this working group and am looking forward to making lots of changes within the University to improve their reporting systems and support for student survivors.
It has outlined as one of its most immediate priorities to be revising and developing the current reporting procedures.
The University has developed and begun rolling out training for support staff, college and other front-facing staff on dealing with sexual violence disclosures. They have also updated their online information which is worth looking at here: https://www.york.ac.uk/students/health/sexual-assault/
If you have any ideas or input for how the University’s reporting systems, policies or processes could be improved, please do get in touch and I will bring that feedback to the working group.
Peace & Love,
P.S. please note I am not trained to deal with any casework or to give any advice.
If you need support, or wish to confidentially disclose/report anything, feel free to go to any of the following services...
The Universities Health & Well-being Directorate - https://www.york.ac.uk/students/health/help/
Open Door - To make an appointment with Open Door, please visit Student Support Hub, Market Square, telephone +44 (0)1904 324140 or email firstname.lastname@example.org
College Welfare Teams - https://www.york.ac.uk/students/health/help/college-support/
Sexual Abuse and Sexual Violence Awareness Week, Support Directory - http://sexualabuseandsexualviolenceawarenessweek.org/find-support/
Survive - Survive are a York based charity providing support to women and men who have survived child sexual abuse, rape or sexual assault - http://survive-northyorks.org.uk/
Independent Domestic Abuse Service - IDAS is a specialist charity that provides comprehensive support services to anyone experiencing or affected by domestic abuse or sexual violence - https://www.idas.org.uk/
Survivors - A national government-funded organisation focusing on male rape and sexual abuse - https://www.survivorsuk.org/
RAINN - The nations largest anti-sexual violence organisation - https://www.rainn.org/types-sexual-violence