This morning, our CEO Eleri Butler spoken on BBC Radio Wales, discussing abuse within the student population, and responding to the news of a new online system by Cardiff University where students can report incidents of abuse.
Welsh Women’s Aid welcomes Cardiff University’s introduction of a new online system for students to report abuse. It is critical that universities take action to address the harassment, abuse and violence amongst their student populations.
Domestic abuse, rape and sexual assault from acquaintances, stalking or sexual harassment are prevalent within wider society; 1 in 3 women can be affected at some point, with younger women more at risk according to crime survey data. As universities are a microcosm of society, we’d expect these same forms of abuse to be prevalent amongst both students and staff at universities. It is unfortunately not surprising that there has been high numbers of students using the online reporting tool since October (43 incidences of relationship abuse, 30 incidences of sexual assault, 24 reported incidences of rape, 16 of unwanted sexual contact, 16 of harassment and 10 of stalking). We know that these crimes are often under-reported. For students, it can be particularly when the perpetrators of abuse are part of their student friendship group, who they regularly see on campus.
In recent months Welsh Women’s Aid have delivered REACT training to Cardiff University staff members to raise awareness of The Disclosure Response Team. This training is based on raising awareness of domestic abuse and sexual violence, enabling them to spot indicators from students and staff who may need support and how to manage disclosures (including when, how and where to signpost to support).
It is vital that the students who have reported abuse have access to support, advice and assistance throughout university, including to report to the police if necessary. The first response is critical, so as well as offering an online point of contact to report abuse, it is also vital that that all university staff receive basic training on how to respond, as a disclosure may be made anywhere. Support provided by the university should be complemented by support in the community from rape crisis and sexual violence support services and domestic abuse support services.
The types of abuse being reported are criminal offences. It is vital that universities promote a culture which doesn’t collude with, condone or tolerate violence and abuse, across the whole institution.
This means that abusers who are students or employees must also be subject to robust responses, not only from the criminal justice system but also by university disciplinary processes. If the conduct breaches the university’s rules and regulations (an approach which is promoted by guidelines in 2016 for UK Universities to adopt a zero tolerance approach to violence and abuse experienced by students at their institutions).
If you are a student, member of university staff or anybody with any questions or queries regarding violence against women, domestic abuse and sexual violence, please remember you can ring our 24hr Live Fear Free helpline on 0808 80 10 800 or use the webchat www.LiveFearFree.gov.wales