You’re 18. Imagine you move away from your parents for the first time. You’re enjoying the excitement of the first year of university, meeting new people, studying hard and partying hard. But then something happens. Someone hurts you, you are scared, injured maybe and don’t know who to tell, who would understand.
In situations like this, nobody should find themselves at a loss for support. That’s the goal of The Universities Supporting Victims of Sexual Violence project, or USVreact.
“Sexual violence happens everywhere,” said Brunel’s Dr Pam Alldred, USVreact leader. “But universities have a duty of care to support students. And as big learning communities, they are also in a good position to challenge culture that fosters sexual violence.
“This is why education for social change is important. For me, it covers everything from education about sexual consent, legal rights, and the consequences of sexual violence, to instruction on how best to support someone who has experienced it.”
Dr Alldred, Gigi Guizzo at CEPS Projectes Sociales in Barcelona and student sexual violence researcher, Professor Alison Phipps at University of Sussex started USVreact in March 2016. With European Commission money, they’re training staff at six other universities in the UK, Greece, Spain, Italy how to help when people experience sexual violence. Already, the European Commission is spotlighting it to showcase successes at confronting violence against women.
“We should prevent all violence against women from happening,” said Gigi Guizzo. “But when we can’t, we need to at least be ready to assist those who experience it. Our focus is to support all those – women and men – who experience violence.”
USVreact is looking at how universities already support people who have experienced violence. Each university will teach 80 of its staff what to do when people come forward.
James Langridge is a librarian who will be trained along with many others at Brunel including administrators, security guards, lecturers, Students’ Union staff. He said:
"We will learn how to make survivors feel believed and supported and offer them openness and empathy. We will learn what support and specialist services are out there.”
Brunel’s Head of Security, Mick Jenkins said: “security staff, for instance in halls, chat to students a lot. Issues of violence, especially sexual violence, can be an intimidating topic, but after training, our security staff will feel well prepared should anyone need support.”
Students feel the benefit of the scheme – even before the training. A second year sports science student told Pam “It is great to know that you live and study on a campus that addresses sexual violence head-on. It makes it a safer and positive place for me and my friends.”
The training materials will be available online and translations into Serbian and Latvian will lead to pilots there.
“Creating a community that is supportive and doesn’t victim blame will help people come forward,” Pam said.
See how the European Commission is highlighting USV React's work across Europe as a gold standard project tackling violence against women.
Hayley Jarvis, Media Relations
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