Developing our response to sexual harassment on campus

Author: Elliot Evans

As highlighted by the recent publicity surrounding online and media campaigns such as #MeToo and #TimesUp, sexual harassment and assault is endemic in our society. As an academic community, we have the opportunity to develop new and creative ways of addressing this problem.

To be part of the solution, we must understand the problem and its causes. Sociologists have identified ‘rape culture’ as including the normalisation of sexual harassment and objectification, the denial and trivialisation of sexual assault and harassment and a widespread culture of victim-blaming within societies. Of course rape culture manifests in various ways across different societies, just as the response to it has also varied across cultures – from the Gulabi Gang in Northern India to the SlutWalk rallies originating in Canada, as well as the online campaigns united by the hashtag #MeToo in English, #QuellaVoltaChe in Italian, #WatashiMo in Japanese (to name only a few).

What can we do?

The role of education has been key in responses to tackling rape culture. Organisations have been attempting to tackle the silence and myths surrounding sexual assault and harassment and to raise awareness of the issues; to aid in prevention by encouraging the recognition of our own and others’ boundaries, promoting a greater understanding of consent; to educate those supporting individuals who speak out; and to empower bystanders to challenge problematic behaviour where they encounter it.

The Not On campaign run by the Birmingham Guild Students, and the Our Bodies Our Voice Foundation who work with the University of Amsterdam (UvA) and other Universities across the Netherlands have both been working on developing consent training and bystander intervention programmes in the Higher Education sector. As part of the collaboration between UvA and UoB, these two organisations will be brought together with researchers from the University of Birmingham and Birkbeck in order to consider our current focus and strengths, working together to share expertise and best practice.

In addition, following discussions with UvA and Our Bodies Our Voice, as well as a research project investigating consent and the #MeToo movement across national contexts, UoB has offered funding for the development of joint training materials and online resources for the benefit of both staff and students. This will draw on the latest research across the sector in combatting sexual harassment on campus, and will be developed through work alongside student societies and as well as EDI staff and researchers specialising in the area to develop our response to the issues.

Consent Culture

Education can play a key role in moving from a society characterised by rape culture to a society that values the communication of boundaries and consent. In the words of Gabriella Thompson, Co-Founder &Project Manager at Our Bodies Our Voice, ‘Consent culture is not just about sexual violence, although that is our main focus, we want people to realise that this culture is about raising awareness and eradicating stigma through empathy, compassion, personal reflection.  – all things that can be applied to issues that can affect us. Our vision works towards safer campuses for students and staff alike, with tools and practices that they can administer in their personal and professional lives.’

Elliot Evans is a Lecturer in Modern Languages at UoB, and has published on the reception of the #MeToo movement in France.

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