By Kieran McCartan, Nick Addis, & Ella Rees
Violence against women and girls (or Gender Based Violence as its also known) is one of the most prolific forms of crime and anti-social behaviour globally, with 1 in 3 experiencing it at some point in their lives (World Bank). This is by no means to diminish the extent of violence against men and boys, but this happens less often and in a different way to violence committed against women and girls (Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse). The most common form of violence against women and girls is sexual abuse and gender-based violence, with the vast majority of this being perpetrated by men and boys (United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs). Often, violence against women and girls is characterized as a women’s issue, with the response to it being a discussion on how we police and mitigate the behaviour of men and boys, which makes it an individual and interpersonal issue rather than a community or social issue (see figure 1 for explanation of socio-ecological model). However, we know that violence against women and girls is a community and social issue, demonstrated by the work of the women of the Centre for Expertise into Child Sexual Abuse, and the Independent inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse, as well as the work for transnational organisations like the United Nations and World Health Organisation. Typically, we frame violence against women and girls as an individual and/or interpersonal issue (which means we talk about it in terms of pathology, psychology, and individual situations) or a social issue (meaning that we talk about it broadly in terms of social norms and beliefs), but the first is too bespoke and the second is too unmanageable! Therefore, we need to start thinking about it at the community level (see Figure 1).
Violence against women and girls happens in a community context and therefore needs a community response, whether that is in terms of how to best respond to violence or how to best prevent it. Therefore, while it is important to work with individuals about their problematic beliefs and behaviours, we need to set a community tone in which these discussions can be held in a more nuanced fashion. There are many different types of communities, from geographic communities, to shared interest, and online communities, as well as, as well as cultural and belief communities. Community comes from a sense of shared values and a common goal of working towards an agreed end. One example of a type of community is a university. Universities work as a community at a meta level (the overarching ideas of the shared values of education, research, and betterment both nationally and internationally) as well as at a more bespoke level (place-based or culture-based approaches rooted in individual universities, campuses, or courses); therefore, the university spans the sociological spectrum and has a role to play at each point. Therefore, because universities are a community, they embody key social values and display social issues, both positive and negative, including violence against women.
Universities UK have stated that violence against women is one of the most pressing issues facing UK universities in the modern era and that they need to step up, collectively and individually, to respond as well as prevent it (Changing the culture report). In doing so, the focus has been on sexual violence, rape, sexual abuse and harassment, with many universities, including UWE Bristol, rolling out bystander intervention training for students; working with the Students Union and their clubs and societies; rolling out http://researchdata.uwe.ac.uk/610/reporting packages (report and support); working with their mental health and support services to develop better packages of support; developing and rolling out packages to support problematic behaviour in individual students (through the ADDRESS programme); and working to change the campus culture, with support from students and their societies, around sexual abuse (Speak up). However, there is still more that can be done, especially through enhancing staff development and training, as well as better and more effective partnership working with local charities and non-governmental organisations that support victims (i.e., Rape Crisis, The Green House) as well as work with people who are at risk of harming (i.e., Lucy Faithfull Foundation).
One way of understanding, and therefore being better able to respond to and prevent sexual abuse, is through a campus climate survey. A campus climate survey is a piece of research conducted by the university examining the prevalence and experiences of those that have been impacted by sexual abuse as a student. This approach to understanding the lived reality of sexual abuse on and off campus has been growing in popularity internationally over the last 10 years or so. Currently, UWE is running its second campus climate survey, the first one ran in 2019 Conducting the campus climate survey is as important for the students who attend UWE Bristol as it is for the university, as it gives the community the opportunity to come together to gain a real sense of the extent of sexual abuse and its members’ understanding of the services available to them, as well as how they engage with them. A community needs a community voice so that it can build fit-for-purpose community services so that individuals are supported, and the community culture shifts.
If you are a current student at UWE Bristol please complete the survey, which is open until the end of November, via the link below:
If you have any questions about the survey, please contact us directly or via the survey email (firstname.lastname@example.org).