Active bystanders: UWE encourages students to take steps to prevent violence or abuse

Issue date: 24 September 2014

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UWE Bristol is today (Wednesday 24 September) launching a new programme to encourage all students to stand up against violence or sexual abuse in their community.

Called The Intervention Initiative, it is a free resource with an educational toolkit to be used by universities and colleges for the prevention of sexual coercion and domestic abuse in university settings.

Programme leader Rachel Fenton said, “The Intervention Initiative works by educating students to recognise and understand sexual and domestic violence and take active steps when they witness problematic behaviour.

“It takes a positive approach, encouraging all students to be active bystanders, standing up against any form of violence or abuse in their community.

“The eight-week programme teaches students the necessary communication and leadership skills to intervene effectively and safely, and to change the social norm, making problematic violent behaviour socially unacceptable.”

The UWE initiative is timely, given that in a survey of 2,156 men and women by the National Union of Students (NUS) published on Monday 15 September, 37% of women and 12% of men said they had faced unwelcome sexual advances.

Rape, sexual coercion and domestic abuse is recognised as a significant yet preventable public health issue faced by all universities in the UK.* This programme has been commissioned by Public Health England and is supported by The Home Office and the National Union of Students.

This intervention shows that UWE is taking a lead in finding a way forward to deal with this preventable public health issue.

The programme is being launched by UWE Vice-Chancellor Professor Steve West. Avon and Somerset Police and Crime Commissioner Sue Mountstevens will also be speaking at the event, with Justin Varney from Public Health England, and NUS Women's Officer Susuana Antubam among those attending.

UWE law students are the first to benefit from the Intervention Initiative, and will begin the course later this month. On completion of the course they will have learned how to recognise and prevent violence and abuse safely, and how to support victims effectively. The course will help them develop professional, leadership and communication skills that will benefit them at University and beyond in their professional lives.

The programme will be fully evaluated, and rolled out to the rest of UWE's students.

Steve West said, “This is an issue for all universities and has been recognised as such by the Home Office, Public Health England and the NUS. UWE is the first University in England to integrate an evidence-based intervention programme into its curriculum. We are proud to be at the forefront of research and practice which is of such importance to all students. The University will take a zero tolerance approach to violence but if we can put in place interventions that prevent issues arising it can only be for the better.

“This programme is available to all universities and colleges and will be fully evaluated.”

*The programme is a response to data including:

- 7% of women students experienced a serious sexual assault (NUS Hidden Marks survey)

- 77% students have experienced sexual harassment (Cambridge Survey)

- 28.5% students have experienced sexual assault (Cambridge study)

- 85% experienced a negative impact on their mental health (Cambridge study)

- 12% women students have been subjected to stalking (Hidden Marks survey)

- Women aged 16 - 24 have higher risk of experiencing domestic violence (Office for National Statistics 2013)

- Sexual offenders target women aged 16-19 and students more than any other age or occupation group (ONS overview of sexual offending in England and Wales 2013)

The initiative was commissioned by Public Health England and created by a multidisciplinary team of experts from UWE in law, criminology, psychology, violence prevention and community activism.

Authors of the project are Dr Rachel Fenton and Dr Helen Mott, with Dr Kieran McCartan and Professor Phil Rumney.

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