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Supporting women in our community and opposing gender-based violence

17 March 2021

Sasha Roseneil, UCL’s Pro Vice-Provost (Equity and Inclusion), writes about gendered violence in our society and highlights resources and support for UCL staff and students who have been affected by the events of the last week.

Photo of Sasha Roseneil

In recent days, the death of Sarah Everard has brought the issue of violence against women forcefully back into public consciousness, igniting a range of emotions for all those who have experienced gender-based violence, or who fear it – which is probably more than half the population. Much as when the #metoo movement began back in 2017, national conversations can resurface disturbing memories and realisations, and can disrupt our equilibrium and well-being.

There is good reason to be concerned. A survey for UN Women UK found that 70% of women in the UK, and 97% of women aged 18-24, have been sexually harassed in public, with the vast majority not reporting it because they believed that reporting would not change anything. As the Everyday Sexism Project details, street harassment and misogyny are rife in the day-to-day lives of women. And at the extreme end of violence against women ONS data shows that a third of women who are killed each year are the victims of their partner or ex-partner (compared with 1% of male victims of homicide).

Living with this knowledge can be distressing, and talking with students and colleagues across UCL over the past few days, I know that there is a huge amount of shared pain and anger amongst women in our community, as well as a deep desire amongst many men to play their part in tackling this global social problem.

UCL has support available for anyone who experiences harassment, violence or abuse. The online Report and Support platform provides a means to report such experiences, anonymously or self-identifying, and enables you to contact an advisor to talk about your experiences and what you want to do next.

These advisors include:

UCL also has a free, dedicated phone line, accessible 24/7 to staff and students, run by Care First, and enabling you to talk confidentially with an advisor about any type of harassment, violence, or sexual misconduct. In addition, the UCL Crime Prevention and Personal Safety Advisor, Sophie Bimson, is on hand to provide advice and guidance (s.bimson@ucl.ac.uk). We are currently reviewing the support we offer and commit to increasing this as needed.

There are many myths about the ‘victims’ and ‘perpetrators’ of violence, and dispelling these myths is vital if we are to change the cultures that blame women for the violence they experience. We also need to challenge the gendered inequalities of power and resources on which violence rests. We all have responsibility to creative safe, inclusive environments. 

To this end, last year UCL launched a new Prevention of Bullying Harassment and Sexual Misconduct Policy and a Personal Relationships Policy which explicitly prohibits close personal or intimate relationships between staff and students where there is direct supervision, in order to avoid abuses of power and conflicts of interest. We encourage everyone to read these policies, and to look at Student Union UCL’s consent module and also active bystander training. Please also watch this powerful video on young BAME women’s experiences of street harassment, produced by Imkaan, which highlights the intersectional nature of racialised sexual harassment.  

Finally, and sadly, I should draw attention to the staggering increase in domestic violence during the pandemic and lockdown; all national domestic abuse phone lines have seen a significant increase in calls. Bright Sky is a mobile app and website for anyone experiencing domestic abuse, or who is worried about someone who might be. Please do download the Bright Sky app, which includes a questionnaire to assess the safety of a relationship, plus a section on dispelling myths about domestic and sexual abuse. If you have been suffering from violence or abuse at home, from a family member or partner, there is help and support available. Please do reach out and know that UCL is here for you.

If you would like to discuss issues raised by recent events, please come along to an online panel organised by UCL’s Equality, Diversity and Inclusion Office on Wednesday 24 March, 4pm–6pm titled: Why do we still need to reclaim the streets?

After the panel discussion there will be an opportunity to attend a small group discussion; there will be facilitated spaces for different groups of people to explore the topics raised by the speakers.

And if you want to speak about a personal experience in more depth than will be possible in these groups, we encourage you to submit a contact request to speak to a UCL dignity advisor (volunteer members of staff who will listen confidentially and offer guidance on internal and external support options and informal resolutions, or signpost you to formal procedures).

It is time to intensify our efforts to end violence against women and sexual abuse, and for UCL to do all we can to ensure the safety of all members of our community.

Professor Sasha Roseneil
Pro-Vice Provost (Equity & Inclusion)