OUSU domestic abuse policies praised by national report

Universities UK approve of Oxford policies but suggest more “joined up” approach

A report released by Universities UK (UUK) last Friday on university abuse and violence praised OUSU’s eff orts to combat domestic abuse. It recommended Oxford’s First Response app to other UK universities, but insists “university responses are not as comprehensive, systematic or joined up as they could be”.

UUK “sought evidence from its members to capture existing activity underway across the sector” and received responses from 60 British universities.

The report follows a culmination of growing alarm about harassment, sexual violence and hate crime on university campuses. Last year a report stated that one in three women in UK universities would be a victim of sexual assault.

Universities UK represents the interests of universities to the UK government and lobbies with advice on higher education policy.

Earlier this month, The Guardian interviewed over 100 women who likened the scale of abuse in universities to the Catholic church and the Saville scandal at the BBC.

An Oxford University spokesperson highlighted the successes of university policy in recent years. They told Cherwell, “Oxford University welcomes the taskforce report and shares its commitment to a zerotolerance culture on sexual violence, harassment and hate crime.

“We are pleased to see the First Response smartphone app for sexual assault survivors, developed by Oxford University Student Union, highlighted as an example of good practice in the report. The app is one of many ways in which Oxford has strengthened its culture of respect in recent years.

“The Student Union has introduced workshops for all new undergraduates to improve understanding of sexual consent. Students also receive practical guidance from the University so they can make complaints in a safe environment and understand every step of Oxford’s robust and professional disciplinary process.

“We now have more than 300 voluntary harassment advisors right across the University, trained to support students in making complaints and guiding them to the range of counselling services Oxford offers.”

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The University’s central Counselling Service off ers psychological support both in the immediate aftermath of harassment and on an ongoing basis.

In October last year, Oxford students launched an app designed to support survivors of sexual assault. ‘First Response’ takes victims through the options available to them and is the fi rst of its kind.

‘It Happens Here’, an Oxford based charity “dedicated to raising awareness about sexual violence and working with members of the University of Oxford and the wider community” have expressed disappointment with Oxford University’s current policy.

The group told Cherwell, “Oxford does not currently follow the Zellick guidence, in that there are some procedures in place to deal with breaches of university discipline, which may also be criminal acts.

“However, these procedures lack clarity and are not wellcommunicated, which means that many students feel unsupported and unsafe, and the University is not currently fulfi lling its duty to respond as effectively as possible to disclosures of sexual violence.

“We also need to address the fact that colleges independently decide their own Harassment Policies, which means that procedures and standards of care can vary enormously.”

The UUK report’s emphasis on forming a “comprehensive”, “joinedup” response to sexual harassment reinforces It Happens Here’s concern “that colleges independently decide their own Harassment Policies, which means procedures and standards of care can vary enormously.”

The report has been criticised for ignoring the issue of harassment amongst staff in universities, and had to use data from the NUS, since many, even prominent, universities do not systematically record allegations of rape, sexual assault or sexual harassment.

A spokesperson from Oxford concluded, “Oxford has a strong culture where harassment is recognised as unacceptable, and has policies which underpin its commitment to a safe campus for all. We will continue to work with Universities UK and other universities on the recommendations in the report and look forward to participating in the national conference on sharing best practice.”