Increase in students: universities invited to step up their prevention efforts


Undergraduates are the lifeblood of nightclubs and bars in many cities across the UK, but one night late last month thousands of female college students across the country stayed at home . They were protesting against a wave of spikes in which it was not drinks from women but rather women themselves who were allegedly injected with drugs.

Although the incidents took place off campus, they targeted students, raising questions about the role universities should play in addressing the problem and their responsibilities when students are victims of crime in downtown areas.

Nicole Westmarland, director of the Center for Research on Violence and Abuse at Durham University, said universities “must recognize that there is a high probability that in some cases the perpetrators are students.”

“Yes [universities] broadcast messages about this to victims – what they should watch out for, what they should not do, etc. “They must have messages on what they are going to do to stop this and the severe penalties for all students convicted.”

The advice for students to cover their drinks when they went out, for example, was “just a sticky bandage” and placed too much of the blame on the victims, Professor Westmarland said. “Universities need to be more creative and put themselves in the shoes of students. What would they want for their daughter or son if they had to deal with something like this?

Anna Bull, co-director of The 1752 Group, which works to end sexual misconduct in higher education, agreed universities need to do more in prevention. She referred to a recent survey of male college students by researchers at the University of Kent, which found that one in nine participants said they had committed at least one sexually aggressive act in the past 24 months.

Dr Bull, senior lecturer in education and social justice at York University, said that while some institutions had improved the way they supported students who were sexually harassed or abused, there had been little progress in prevention work. “It’s largely left to the student unions,” she said.

One of the problems was the lack of clarity on a university’s legal duty of care in relation to off-campus incidents, Dr Bull said. “It’s a gray area, and institutions are not encouraged to implement systematic and evidence-based prevention programs, such as mandatory witness training or work that defies gender norms,” ​​he said. -she explains.

Dr Bull said that while the UK regulator recently issued a ‘statement of expectations’ on how institutions should handle complaints of harassment and sexual misconduct, it has not done prevention, for example, a legal obligation for universities.

“The universities have a great responsibility here, but much of it is left to the good intentions of the individual,” she said.

Emma Williamson, gender-based violence reader at the University of Bristol, agreed the conversation needed to be more focused on prevention, but cautioned against rising expectations of universities’ ‘due diligence’.

Very often the task of supporting students who have experienced sexual harassment and violence falls on the tutors, but that is not the best way to deal with the problem, she explained, because no matter how much the staff may want to help, they may lack the necessary training or resources.

“It is also a broader social problem. While it can target places where students might go out at night, it is also a problem for all young people, ”said Dr Williamson.

Universities needed to link with local support services specializing in sexual violence, she continued, warning that the big problem was, “we know what works; it’s just that it wasn’t funded properly.

“If you have appropriate offender programs that are built into the curriculum, it starts to change the cultures around eligibility,” Dr. Williamson said.

Helen Mott, a research consultant specializing in sexual harassment and violence against women, agreed that local relationships are vital, emphasizing the role of “common thinking” between universities, nightclubs and scholars. violence against women.

Too many prevention programs have been piloted without being adopted as part of a university-wide approach, or they have remained voluntary, which means that those most likely to commit sexual violence are there. did not participate, she said.

Dr Mott said she was “tired of people passing the buck,” stressing that universities are well placed to deliver prevention programs to large populations of young men and to run prevention campaigns at the community level. .

“They should seize the opportunity and jump into it with enthusiasm. But I am very sad to say that currently they are not, ”said Dr Mott.

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