In this post, Dr Aleata Alstad-Calkins, Director of Student Services at the University of Roehampton shares a case study. The case study shares findings from the Bystander Intervention Project, a project designed to tackle the issue of sexual assaults and harassment within the university community.
In the United Kingdom, 3.4 million females and 631,000 males have been victims to sexual assault and harassment (Ministry of Justice, Office for National Statistics and Home Office; 2013).
Furthermore, approximately 85,000 women and 12,000 men experience rape in England and Wales every year (Crime Survey for England and Wales, 2017); to break that down, that is roughly 11 serious sexual offences occurring every hour. And this is only reflective of adults. The numbers become far greater if you include sexual violence against children and also far greater if you include those incidents which haven’t been reported.
To bring the issue even closer to home, a recent survey showed that more than three in five students in the UK have been sexually assaulted or harassed while at university (Revolt Survey, 2018).
The statistical landscape of sexual violence reinforces why we all must take responsibility for making prevention a priority at our institutions.
For me personally, tackling this issue has become a lifelong journey. I started as an advocate at a Rape Crisis Centre in the USA when I was 18 which truly opened my eyes to the enormity of the problem and it fuelled my passion to continue on a journey of tackling the issue.
A few years later, I moved to London and completed a doctorate in Counselling Psychology with my thesis focusing on post-assault services for victim/survivors of sexual violence in England. During that time, I also started working with many victim/survivors in my practice as a psychologist and have continued to do so.
As you can imagine, I have spent hours and hours thinking about this tragic endemic.
Most recently as Director of Student Services, I’ve been able to mould my experiences together in a meaningful way to influence our University’s strategy and shape the way we educate and protect students at university through awareness-raising and preventative action.
I was very fortunate to receive £50k matched-funding through the catalyst grants that OfS awarded in 2017. This enabled us to develop a very robust action plan and finally tackle this issue head-on. The project was called ‘Prevention and Protection’ and it encompassed three important areas which harnessed key recommendations of the UUK taskforce report.
At the development stages, we considered all angles of this multifaceted issue.
Our main objections were to:
- Change culture at University by educating all staff and students on consent
- Empower students to take responsibility to protect others
- Build confidence and resilience of our students which will impact our local community and greater society
- Combat stigmatisations and victim-blaming
- Promote support and facilitate after-care
To achieve these objectives, we rolled out an extensive training programme for both staff and students both in face-to-face format and also the online Consent Matters hosted by Epigeum. We collaborated with our local Rape Crisis to ensure that the guidance and policies that we wrote were robust and our front-facing staff including our disciplinary officers all underwent an intensive two-day training delivered by Rape Crisis. The second part of the project was to enhance the support we offer students which we worked closely with the counselling psychology department to achieve.
For the final piece of the project, we established the Bystander Intervention Project which was inspired by the UWE’s Bystander Intervention Initiative. We adopted a similar model to the initiative but we wanted to take it one step further and create a team of student bystanders who would attend events and have a prominent presence on campus.
To achieve this, we recruited 20 students who undertook a rigorous two-day training which included elements of the UWE Intervention Initiative programme with a focus on how to identify problematic behaviour; the 3 D’s of Intervention which are Direct, Deflect and Delegate; and how to practically manage difficult situations.
They attended events on and off-campus to monitor for sexual harassment/assault and to intervene when it took place. They also provided an essential role in raising awareness about consent and also provided pastoral support, advice and guidance to students who disclosed.
We worked very closely with our SU as key stakeholders and students were involved from the initial stages of the planning to the final execution of the project.
During the initial development and implementation stages, the project withstood a few challenges at the start such as resistance from several staff members at our SU who initially felt that we were being ‘killjoys’ and ‘the fun police’. We were patient and supportive of their hesitations and tried to find a common ground to work from. Shortly thereafter everyone around the table-valued the aim of the project and everyone was hugely invested in supporting the success of the project.
We also had to work very carefully to ensure that the project complemented the work of security and the staff at events rather than interfere or impose.
Within the first few weeks of implementation, the team became an embedded resource at the University and made a huge difference to the student experience both in terms of safety and support but also in terms of shifting the culture.
It was quickly established during the first year of implementation that the Bystander Team were having an impact on student life. As part of the project whilst funded by Office for Students, the Bystander Team completed shift summaries where they shared observations from their shift as well as summaries on general engagement with students. Many of these shift summaries highlighted positive feedback the team received from fellow students whilst on nights out. Some of the bystanders informed us that they had 10+ students each shift coming up to them and thanking them out of the blue.
‘A girl came up to us at one point and said she was very proud of what we do and that we’re one of the most important parts for students.’ (5th March 2018)
‘Later I was approached by 3 former Roehampton students who were very interested in the project, gave positive feedback and likened it to the Street Angels Scheme.’ (Varsity, 21st March 2018)
Across the first year, there was a growing sense of appreciation for the Bystander team, with students reporting that they felt safer at these nighttime events with the Bystander Team present.
As hoped, the project had an impact on ‘rape culture’ at the university. Rape culture is defined as “multiple pervasive issues that allow rape and sexual assault to be excused, legitimised and viewed as inevitable” (White and Smith, 2004). This notion is prevalent across the student population and a major aspect of what we aimed to tackle with the project.
Additionally, there was a culture shift at the Students’ Union night time events. Due to the Bystander Team, students seem more aware of problematic behaviour and expressed feeling responsible for tackling this unwanted behaviour and raising concerns about it. There was an increased sense of students holding each other accountable which was evident in the increased reporting to the Bystander Team. In particular, students disclosed issues they weren’t involved in but either witnessed or knew about.
There was also an impact on the number of disclosures being made to the Wellbeing Team. After the project launch, disclosures to the Wellbeing Team increased. This suggests that implementing the Bystander Intervention Project helped encourage students to come forward and access support for incidences of sexual violence because they felt safe to do so in the environment we fostered.
Of course, importantly, all of this positive work is led to further funding for the project. The OfS funding for the project was only for one academic year but due to the impact of the Bystander Intervention Project on student life and student culture, the University agreed to continue to fund the project which is temporarily paused for COVID-reasons.https://www.youtube.com/embed/VvBYgTLrM6E?feature=oembed&enablejsapi=1&origin=https://www.governmentevents.co.uk
Given that it was a new initiative and hadn’t been implemented in any other institution in the UK, there was an immense learning curve – particularly in the first year.
A significant part of the learning was around the clarification of roles and boundaries, specifically regarding the Bystander Team being mostly students. Initially, there was apprehension amongst colleagues about how comfortable students would feel disclosing to fellow students and whether they could be trusted amongst their peer-groups but it ended up that students preferred this option.
The other aspect was training and accountability. The 2-day training was hands-on and in-depth, setting the expectation of professionalism high. The Bystanders also signed a contract that outlined what was expected; how to conduct themselves; and reminded them that any reports of poor or inappropriate conduct would be addressed immediately. Group supervision was also provided in order to ensure their development continued throughout the academic year.
We also considered how to hold the team accountable without any supervision whilst at work. Although working closely with the Students’ Union, there wasn’t any SU staff whose role was to oversee the Bystander Team. For that reason, in the projects’ second year, we adapted the role of Bystander Team Coordinator to also work as a supervisor at events. Previously the Team Coordinator role had been more administrative but developing the duties to include also attending the events and directly managing the team was a positive step forward, enhancing the professionalism of the team. Additionally, we also developed the role of ‘shift leaders’ which was for students who were fulfilling the role for a second year. We made sure there was a shift leader scheduled for every event to help with accountability and processes.
Finally, recording and reporting was the biggest learning curve to overcome. We used the same process that the Students’ Union had for reporting incidences at events. The reports were sent to the SU even staff, the Team Coordinator and the Bystander Project Manager to allow oversight and enable streamlined follow-up processes. One of the major challenges was when students reported an incident to the Bystander team but didn’t have a name or description. This led to many reports being made but far less being pursued formally. It also made it difficult to intervene or follow-up as seamlessly. Our next step is to build a Report & Support tool to complement the existing support structure.
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