Universities still have responsibility to safeguard & respond to abuse while students working remotely

It is a concerning time for further and higher education, as students and teachers adapt to moving online, however aside from the trials and tribulations of poor connectivity during a zoom conference, what does studying from home really entail for those at risk of domestic and sexual abuse? 

With around 1 in 7 women experiencing some sort of serious sexual assault during their time as a student (NUS, 2011) Higher Education (HE) and Further Education (FE) institutions have historically focused on improving their response to sexual violence on campus, however with the likelihood of a second lockdown and an increasing responsibility to safeguard those working from home, a whole systems approach needs to be implemented to manage risk around domestic abuse too. 

The question we must then ask is: how can universities recognise abuse and provide a safe and accessible process for disclosures without face to face interaction? Due to the pandemic survivors are facing countless additional barriers to reporting from not having the privacy to call a helpline, losing social support systems, or having protective factors removed such as children in school or employment. Accessing education therefore should not contribute to this list of barriers rather it should act as a vital lifeline of support to those suffering abuse.   

This work begins with innovative, student centred training for all staff from senior management to student welfare officers. This will support teachers, professors and frontline staff to spot signs of abuse remotely, such as a reluctance to end a video call, missing seminars, late admissions, not turning their camera on or maybe wearing excessive clothing to cover bruises. 

Once these signs are identified, the response to this is then crucial, and guidance must be provided on making safe enquiries with students so as not to increase risk. This includes training on language, so the survivor feels listened to, believed, and supported; this is especially important for marginalised groups who face additional barriers to disclosing abuse. Next, staff need to feel comfortable with safeguarding processes to protect children and survivors at risk of significant harm. Finally, as survivors of abuse often feel like they have no choices, staff should be able to present survivors with options, including signposting to sources of support. This approach to tackling abuse will in turn create a culture which supports survivors and holds perpetrators accountable. 

If you are interested in finding out more about Solace Training for Universities and how we can work with HE and FE settings to improve support to those at risk of abuse, contact us email [email protected] or go to our Building a Culture of Consent page here