Gender based violence action plan

A year in review: 2022/23

University of York

"The problem of sexual violence is a universal issue for all universities to solve, but the effort made by the University of York is a good place to start."

University of York student, speaking to The Tab

In 2021, the University launched a Sexual Violence Steering Group, with the aim of working together to identify the best ways to prevent, respond to and investigate incidents of sexual misconduct.

Chaired by Tracy Lightfoot, Pro-Vice Chancellor for Teaching, Learning and Students, the group is attended by staff, students and members of specialist partner organisations.

In 2023, the purpose of the group broadened to encompass issues of gender based violence, of which sexual violence is one element.

What We do

As a group, we have established a continuous action plan that is informed by student voices, regulatory requirements, sector best practice and lessons learned.

The action plan is regularly re-visited and prioritised by the Steering Group and frequent updates are provided to key stakeholders. 

Now in our second year, we are proud to once again report on the annual progress we have made against our plan.

Our principles

The Action Plan focuses on several key principles:

  • Cultural change
  • Leadership, investment and resourcing
  • Regulatory matters
  • Education, training and awareness raising
  • Communication

"Unconditional support, understanding and patience."

University of York student feedback on their University Sexual Violence Liaison Officer

What have we achieved?

Achievements this year include:

  • A commitment to a high quality reporting mechanism
  • Review of support content on Report + Support
  • Sessions on "Demystifying Report + Support"
  • Free transport to the Sexual Assault Referral Centre and sexual health services
  • Student discipline paperwork review
  • Becoming a Third Party Reporting Centre for Hate Crime
  • Training, learning and awareness raising for students
  • Training, learning and awareness raising for staff
  • Sharing good practice
  • Sexual Violence Awareness Week 2023
  • Continued success of the Sexual Violence Liaison Officer (SVLO) role
  • "I am proud that two years on from its inception, our Sexual Violence Action Plan remains a key priority here at York, but more so that we have now broadened our focus to incorporate all aspects of Gender Based Violence, enabling us to support more students when they need it.

    We've achieved a lot over the past 12 months, particularly in embedding our Report + Support tool, ensuring that staff, students and others have an accessible way to inform us of issues relating to Gender Based Violence. 

    We've also focused heavily on staff training and awareness, to ensure that key groups are equipped to support anyone who experiences these types of violence. 

    Thank you to all the students and staff who have helped us to shape and drive these actions forward - I know we won't rest here, and am really excited to see what we can achieve together in the next 12 months."

    Professor Tracy Lightfoot PVC Teaching, Learning and Students

    A commitment to a high quality reporting mechanism

    In December 2019, we renewed our licence with Culture Shift, who provide the Report + Support platform, ensuring that staff, students and others have an accessible way to inform us of issues relating to harassment and sexual misconduct. 

    We have added several new questions to the Report + Support format, including “socio-economic status” as a factor that a person may feel targeted on. We also now capture where an incident took place (including online, on campus or off campus), and when an incident took place, so that we can tailor and triage our response appropriately.

    Review of support content on Report + Support

    Alongside renewal and updates to the reporting process, we also reviewed all of the support content on Report+Support, including adding a new support section for those concerned about their own behaviours. This section provides information on a local service who can provide support for anyone concerned about their behaviour within a relationship. It also allows students and staff to book onto a Bystander Intervention training session, aimed at empowering our University community to step in when they see concerning behaviour.

    Sessions on "Demystifying Report + Support"

    The Conduct and Respect team have developed a short briefing session called “Demystifying Report + Support”, which we have run as open sessions, as well as offering to specific student groups and staff groups. The session covers what Report + Support is for, who is responsible for responding to different kinds of reports, and what sort of action people can expect us to take on either named reports or anonymous reports. 

    Free transport to the Sexual Assault Referral Centre and sexual health services

    We have reaffirmed our contract with a local taxi firm to allow students to access free taxi transport for the purpose of attending the Sexual Assault Referral Centre (SARC) without facing unnecessary obstacles. This year, the provision has also been extended to allow for attendance at sexual health services in the aftermath of an incident of sexual violence. 

    Student discipline paperwork review

    The Conduct and Respect team carried out a review of all paperwork that forms part of our communication with reported and reporting students. The review ensured that paperwork covered defensibility and clarity, consistent encouragement to access support, and timely relevant information. We have also developed new paperwork focused around Disciplinary Panel Hearings. 

    Becoming a Third Party Reporting Centre for Hate Crime

    The Conduct and Respect team have worked with North Yorkshire Police to become a Third Party Reporting Centre for Hate Crime (which in North Yorkshire’s policing area, includes misogyny). This means that we can now support students to ensure their experiences are logged as a hate crime by the police, where they choose for this to happen.

    Sharing good practice

    The Conduct and Respect team have met with several other institutions to share practice, including the structure of our SVLO team, and our risk assessment and decision making frameworks. In December, the Head of Conduct and Respect was invited to present at Culture Shift’s Annual Knowledge Forum about the University’s pro-active approach to using data from anonymous reports.

    Training, learning and awareness raising for students

    This year, our student orientation programme once again included information on Report + Support, consent, sexual violence, and being an active bystander. On joining the University, students were required to complete Consent Matters online learning. Additionally, sports leaders were pro-actively invited to attend in-person Bystander Intervention training sessions, which focus on taking a stand against all forms of harassment. 

    Training, learning and awareness raising for staff

    Our SVLOs have trained all Campus Safety staff on their role as “first responders” to incidents. Training ensured a consistent understanding of the Sexual Assault Referral Centre (SARC), the freedom to choose whether to involve police, and the importance of timely and appropriate referrals into specialist support. 

    In November, our SVLOs, Conduct and Respect Advisors and Management, and College Managers attended a training session from Revenge Porn Helpline, to ensure up-to-date skills in responding to disclosures of this type of abuse, and the support available. 

    Our Conduct and Respect Advisors have also received training from North Yorkshire Police’s Hate Crime team on understanding misogyny as a form of Hate Crime, and the mechanisms available to students. 

    Additionally, two levels of training have been provided for panel members who may be called on to hear Student Discipline cases:

    1. Training from a legal professional on the principles of justice, the role of HEIs, the boundaries between our investigations and the Criminal Justice System, and running fair panel hearings.
    2. Specialised training from 1752 on hearing Sexual Misconduct cases

    We also invited YUSU and GSA staff along to the training, as well as SVLOs, to ensure that those who support people through these processes have a shared understanding of the principles under which we are acting.

    Investigating Officers for Student Discipline cases received training on legal principles, as well as specialised training on Sexual Misconduct cases. HR staff have also received training from 1752 on handling Sexual Misconduct cases.

    Finally, a training session was delivered by the Head of Conduct and Respect to those called upon in Student Disciplinary cases to act as Secretary to the Panel, to ensure that notes are consistent and defensible. 

    Sexual Violence Awareness Week 2023

    To mark Sexual Violence Awareness Week 2023, the Conduct and Respect team hosted a series of in person and online events. Our “Light Up The Night” walk saw around 200 students and staff stand in solidarity with survivors of Sexual Violence, and various partner agencies hosted stalls to engage with students and staff about support available locally.

    Over the course of the week we;

  • Ran a “meet the SVLOs” session for staff
  • Ran a “Demystifying Report+Support” open session
  • Invited British Transport Police to speak about the Guardian app to combat sexual harassment on public transport
  • Heard from IDAS about how to support a friend who discloses abuse
  • Heard from Revenge Porn Helpline on understanding Intimate Image Abuse
  • Heard from North Yorkshire Police’s Stalking and Harassment team about support for those suffering stalking and harassment.
  • Hosted a special talk from Professor Vanita Sundaram about her report on black and racially minoritised girls’ and women's experiences of public sexual harassment
  • Ran a midweek sound meditation self care session on campus with local service, Kyra
  • Worked with YUSU who ran a support drop-in, a screening of Athlete A, and a relay race across campus to raise awareness
  • Continued success of the SVLO role

    We invite students who have accessed SVLO support to provide feedback on the support they have received. In 2022/23, twenty students provided formal feedback.

    Feedback was unanimously positive, with 100% of respondents agreeing that:

    • SVLO support met their individual needs and expectations
    • They were satisfied with the level of contact they had with an SVLO
    • They felt heard and respected by their SVLO
    • They would recommend SVLO support to other students

    “Sexual Violence Awareness Week on campus makes a huge impact - it's a real reminder that just being aware is important.”

    University of York student, speaking to The Tab“

    Student Feedack On our SVLO support

    "Unconditional support, understanding and patience."

    "I think the whole service is phenomenal, and the less formal atmosphere just made me feel so comfortable."

    “I really appreciate that my SVLO took my situation seriously and made me feel heard and validated in my feelings."

    Never any expectation to make certain decisions regarding reporting, always feeling listened to and heard, never feeling judged for any feelings expressed during appointments, consistent support throughout uni.”