Members of AMOSSHE (the Student Services Organisation) welcome the specific focus that the UUK Harassment and Hate Crime Taskforce have placed on gender-based violence.
As managers of student services within universities, we have been working together over the last year to develop best practice in responding to and preventing sexual harassment and sexual assault among students. We’ve been sharing current work in progress, but also providing training for our members by utilising external expertise from sexual assault referral centres, independent sexual violence advisers, Eversheds law firm, and the Intervention Initiative (the only evidence-based approach to preventing gender-based violence in university settings).
The conclusion from our work is that a sustainable, whole-institutional strategy will be needed to tackle gender-based violence among students, underpinned by an evidence-based approach that places the issues within the wider context in society.
Managers of student services are well placed to lead their institutions in such an approach. We have extensive experience of working with external partners, working with our Students’ Union, supporting academic staff in their pastoral duties and promoting university-wide best practice to support our students – all key ingredients in an effective whole-institutional strategy.
We are also mindful of how attitudes in society can be a barrier to progressing this work, and so dispelling damaging myths around gender-based violence is essential if our work is to be effective. A useful starting point for establishing the facts is the 2013 report from the Home Office & Office for National Statistics on Sexual Offending in England and Wales.
From this report we know that around 2.5% of women are victims of a sexual offence annually in England and Wales, and 0.5% of women annually are victims of the most serious sexual offences, including rape. After gender, age is the most significant factor in the targeting of victims; the younger a woman is, the more likely she is to be targeted. Full-time students are more likely than any other occupational group to be targeted by perpetrators of sexual offences.
One of the most damaging myths about rape generally is that it is a rare act committed by strangers, and that by implication, a woman can protect herself from rape by taking steps to ensure her own safety. Not only does this victim-blaming approach shift the responsibility from perpetrators to the women they target, but it discourages women from reporting the crime for fear of being blamed or disbelieved. The statistics disprove the stranger rape myth: 90% of women who are raped know the perpetrator and 56% of rapes are rapes by a partner.
Another damaging myth is that there is a high prevalence of false accusations of rape. So pervasive is this misplaced belief, that the Crown Prosecution Service conducted research into the issue. The research disproves the myth: during the period of the review there were 5,651 prosecutions for rape and 35 prosecutions for making a false accusation of rape. Furthermore, of those 35 cases, a significant number involved young, often vulnerable people.
Managers of student services welcome the opportunity to contribute to the work of the UUK Taskforce, and our specific skills and experience will have an important role to play in supporting institutions to implement the recommendations of the group. Embedding an evidence-based, sustainable, best practice approach to responding to and preventing gender-based violence will require a sustained and whole-institution effort. Utilising statistics to demonstrate the need for this work, and to dispel the myths that inhibit progress, is an essential first step.
These issues will be explored at the forthcoming Universities UK seminar on ‘Tackling violence against women, harassment and hate crime affecting university students ‘ on 19 April.