Registrar & Secretary wellbeing blog

Posted by cc576 at Dec 31, 2020 12:00 AM |
Ensuring the wellbeing and safety of our community

Content warning: sexual violence

This week is national Sexual Violence Awareness Week. It is a University’s first duty to ensure the safety and wellbeing of its community, to protect our students from harm, harassment, or unacceptable behaviours of any kind. I am very proud of the work we have done in the University over the last few years to raise awareness and develop institutional responses to tackling these unacceptable behaviours.

Some of you may think sexual violence and harassment does not happen in our University. I am sorry to have to tell you that it absolutely does. We are a community of nearly 20,000 – the size of a small town – so we would be naïve to think it did not happen at Leicester. Since September 2018, there have been 76 reports of sexual harassment and assault and 19 reports of rape in our student community. We are not alone in the sector – this is an issue all universities are having to confront and tackle.

Over the last few years we have responded to national initiatives (notably the UUK Changing the Culture Taskforce published in 2016), listened to feedback from students, our Students’ Union, and made changes to ensure we have more support in place. Our Standing Together team consists of three staff members who are also trained Sexual Violence Liaison Officers (SVLOs). These amazing staff provide specialist support to students reporting cases of sexual violence and harassment. They are closely supported in their work by our student welfare, counselling and wellbeing staff, and work closely in partnership with external agencies, including the city's rape crisis centre, NHS, and police"

Our Student Conduct team now consists of four staff members, including two professionally-trained investigators, who undertake comprehensive investigations into many of these cases, where required. A key regulatory change in recent years is that the University can no longer standby whilst a police-led criminal investigation takes place. We have a duty to act, not to ignore.

Cases are often complex, and require careful management and support. Our teams are backed up by a new and comprehensive set of policies, procedures and regulations, with external training, development and support, as well as legal guidance and advice. These policies and procedures exist for two reasons: to codify our duty of care for our students, and to ensure a consistency and transparency in how we handle and support our students.

I know this is not enough, the situation is constantly evolving, and we’ll always need to do more. I have met survivors of sexual violence and harassment from our student community – these have been some of the most difficult conversations in my professional career. Hearing about their experiences, where the University has supported them well, or where we have failed to support them adequately, reminds me every day why we have to put student wellbeing at the heart of our University.

And this is why, for me, our ‘Erase the Grey’ campaign is so important. It raises awareness. It makes you stop and think. It brings the uncomfortable, even if briefly, into our otherwise comfortable days at work and study. It reminds us that hateful behaviours are unacceptable, but sadly also very real. We all have a responsibility to stop them.

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