UWE Bristol’s Expanding Research Excellence scheme: The Prevention of Sexual Abuse

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The Prevention of Sexual Abuse Springboard (part of UWE Bristol’s Expanding Research Excellence scheme) currently pulls together existing areas of research strength at UWE Bristol, drawing on our work with victims and those who have committed sexual abuse. The Springboard investment has provided an opportunity for the team to take a more multi-disciplinary approach that is needed to address the complicated reality of sexual abuse. This approach will bring together academics to try to drive a much-needed and likely disruptive shift toward preventing sexual abuse, as well as responding to it.

Our work is currently focused around two research streams:

Helping communities to understand and engage with sexual abuse to assist “at risk” populations (primary prevention & secondary prevention)

The first stream focuses on primary and secondary prevention with victims as well as with people who commit sexual abuse. The aim is to examine the issue at a place based, community level, as this research stream will be addressing three distinct research questions.

The first research question addresses campus, place-based approaches to sexual abuse prevention. This project will focus on student perceptions around on-campus prevention and reporting in cases of sexual misconduct. In the 2019 Campus Climate Survey (CCS), 50% of student respondents reported experiencing some form of sexual abuse and/or harassment, with many incidents taking place on campus. A primary data collection effort, including a new Campus Climate Survey, will allow researchers to identify knowledge around support services available at UWE and students’ needs.

The second research question has a focus on understanding disclosure and points of intervention. The purpose of the work under this section of the Springboard is to grow the identification of early intervention and prevention points. We are working on research to build better routine enquiry around sexual violence through a study of those services who do this well, and those who struggle. Another key setting for prevention work is through sports. Sports teams have been identified hotspots of problematic male dominant norms, so we will work with teams and groups who need support around bystander intervention.

The final question under this first research stream is on developmental understandings of sexual abuse and means and ways of intervening in school settings. This question focuses on the need for a streamlined package of advice, guidance, and resources for students whilst at university, to enable them to become ambassadors against violence against women and girls (VAWG). We are asking students what they already know about VAWG, and how they think their university courses could further equip them to be able to prevent and respond to VAWG within the world of work. We aim to be able to build upon what is learnt, feeding it back into practice to complement existing provision for the future workforce.

Supporting recovery from sexual abuse in both victims and perpetrators (quaternary prevention)

The second stream focuses on quaternary prevention with victims as well as people who commit sexual abuse. This research stream aims to look at innovative ways of integrating people impacted by sexual abuse, both victims and people convicted of sexual abuse, back into the community post-offence. This research stream will be addressing two primary questions.

The first question involves understanding the role of trauma in the lives of people who sexually offend and how best to incorporate this into our response. This stream involves affording consideration to the term “trauma informed” and exploring what is meant by this, how it is currently used, by who and in what way. This has been supplemented by several interviews with professionals working in the sector. Using a semi-structured interview schedule, the interviews have explored professional use and understanding of “trauma informed” approaches. This exercise has contributed to a form of small-scale “mapping” to consider good practice, gaps and pathways to support in community, healthcare and criminal justice settings.

The final question in this second research stream focuses on developing a restorative culture/system that enables desistence and recovery from sexual abuse. This research will examine the role of restorative justice in cases of sexual offending. Our aim is to identify gaps in the literature which can help develop future funding bids. We hope to develop a very clear understanding of how restorative justice can be of benefit in different cases of sexual offending.

The Springboard and the prevention of sexual abuse is gathering steam with UWE academics and external partners, demonstrating the importance of collaboration and the potential for real world impact. Sexual abuse is not a new or emerging issue, but the way that we are tackling the issue at UWE through a trauma informed, strengths-based approach is, because it enables effective community engagement and integration.

For more information about this Springboard please email kieran.mccartan@uwe.ac.uk.

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