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Staff trained to support victims of sexual violence

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Brunel University London is leading a trailblazing scheme to train staff at 15 international universities in what to do if a student tells them they have been raped or suffered sexual violence.

It  comes as a Universities UK report calls for ‘behavioural and cultural change’ and urges universities to follow Brunel’s institution-wide approach to tackle violence against women, harassment and hate crime.

“Sexual bullying and harassment happens everywhere,” said Brunel’s Dr Pam Alldred, Reader in Education and Youth Studies. “Universities are no exception – but have a unique opportunity to tackle it through education. I hope universities see this as the starting point of an agenda for cultural change and commitment to equalities.”

Tutors and staff who work in University bars, security and halls – people who could be the first person victims tell about sexual assault – new or historical – will be trained to support victims under USVreact (Universities Supporting Victims of Sexual Violence). It will train staff at Brunel University London, University of York, University of Sussex, and others in Greece, Spain and Italy.

Eighty staff at each of the 15 universities will be trained by counselling experts how best to support students who come forward to say they have suffered a sexual assault, harassment or hate crime. They will learn how to make survivors feel believed and supported and the best services to signpost students to for help.

Dr Alison Phipps, Director of Gender Studies at Sussex University said: “We are using this training to make a positive change in university cultures – to foster the openness and empathy which both facilitate disclosures and may help prevent harassment and violence from happening in the first place.”

Dr Vanita Sundaram, Senior Lecturer in Education at the University of York, said: "USV react aims to increase staff awareness and understanding of sexual violence, its impact and develop skills for responding supportively. It will contribute to fostering university environments that are safe and supportive spaces for all students."

The £1.1m EU funded pilot project is based on 20 years of combined research from Sussex, York, Lancaster and Brunel Universities and on the experience of services for women facing violence.

“The focus of this project is to support students,” said Dr Anne Chappell, USV React co-ordinator at Brunel. “That’s what makes this unique. We want to enable staff to effectively help and support student victims of sexual violence.”