Sexual Violence Action Plan

A year in review: 2021/22

"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 June 2021, we launched a Sexual Violence Steering Group. The group has met monthly, chaired by Tracy Lightfoot, Pro-Vice Chancellor for Teaching, Learning and Students, and is attended by staff, students, and members of specialist partner organisations.

What did we set out to do?

We aimed to create a plan that would be continuously informed by student voices, regulatory requirements, sector best practice, and lessons learned. The action plan was revisited and reprioritised regularly by the Sexual Violence Steering Group and regular updates were provided to key stakeholders. 

To ensure transparency, we published the Sexual Violence Action Plan, so that we could be held accountable to progress the work ongoing at the University to tackle the issue of Sexual Violence.

Our principles

The Action Plan focused on several key principles:

  • Cultural change
  • Leadership, investment and resourcing
  • Regulatory matters
  • Education, training and awareness raising
  • Communication
“I’ve felt supported by her at every step of the way. I think the whole service is phenomenal, and the less formal atmosphere just made me feel so comfortable.”
University of York student on their experience with the Sexual Violence Liaison Officer (SVLO) service

What have we achieved?

Achievements this year include:

  • Improved reporting mechanisms
  • Implementation of case management systems
  • Free transport to the Sexual Assault Referral Centre
  • Funding additional specialist staff
  • Senior leadership and committee oversight
  • Separation of disciplinary regulation and procedures
  • Training for key staff on spiking, intimate image abuse, and abuse within LGBTQ+ relationships
  • Disciplinary paperwork review
  • Updating orientation material for new students to include consent, support and reporting
  • Introduction of training for all staff on responding to disclosures

Read on for more details of the progress in these areas.

“The support of the SVLO was extremely helpful for episodes that are difficult to share with other people as friends or relatives. Having someone for you is an invaluable help that feels like a blessing.”
University of York student

Improved reporting mechanisms

Our Report + Support platform has been extended to staff as well as students, so that there's a consistent experience for those reporting Sexual Violence.

Implementation of case management systems

The Conduct and Respect team worked with colleagues in Digital Tools to develop new case management systems which went live in May. The systems, which track and manage cases of student discipline, Sexual Violence Liaison Officer (SVLO) support, and other related processes, are distinct and confidential, and allow for streamlined escalation processes, clear communication tracking and case monitoring. 

Free transport to the Sexual Assault Referral Centre

Anyone can attend the Sexual Assault Referral Centre (SARC) to have forensic evidence taken and preserved without having to make an immediate decision about whether to report to the police. We've renewed our contract with a local taxi firm to provide straightforward, free transport to the SARC; students can access this through Security.

Funding additional specialist staff

Funding was confirmed for all short-term roles within the Conduct and Respect team to be made permanent. An additional temporary SVLO role has been funded up until July 2023, to respond to the increase in referrals for support.

Senior leadership and committee oversight

Sexual Violence updates are now routinely reported to the University Executive Board. Additionally, regular reports on insights and data from Report + Support are shared with the University’s Equality, Diversity and Inclusion Committee and the Student Life Committee.

Separation of disciplinary regulation and procedures

We reviewed Regulation 7 which focuses on student discipline. An online consultation was launched in March 2022, focusing on key areas including sexual misconduct, racial harassment, online behaviours, accessibility and academic misconduct.

We also took legal advice on our plans for reviewing and rewriting the regulation and on implementing the feedback we received.

As a result, Regulation 7 was rewritten as overarching governing principles with a separate, more accessible procedure introduced on non-academic misconduct. The new process and procedure came into effect on 1 August 2022.

Training for key staff on spiking, intimate image abuse, and abuse within LGBTQ+ relationships

The disciplinary procedure has been updated to include key issues relating to sexual violence, including the issue of ‘spiking' and the inclusion of “threatening to share private sexual images without consent” as an act of misconduct in addition to the actual act of sharing them.

SVLOs, Investigating Officers, and Disciplinary Managers received up to date Mental Health First Aid training, and SVLOs attended a training session run by the charity GALOP on “Queer Consent and Healthy Relationships - LGBT+ People and Abuse" to improve their understanding of Sexual Violence in this context.

In July 2022, The Loop delivered training to key staff including SVLOs, College Managers, Conduct and Respect Advisors, as well as key staff from Security services, Open Door, and YUSU, on the topic of spiking.

Disciplinary paperwork review

The Conduct and Respect team reviewed all paperwork involved in communicating with reported and reporting students, to ensure clarity, consistent encouragement to access support, and timely relevant information. Moving forwards, we'll review paperwork annually, to ensure it remains in line with regulatory requirements, best practice and continued learning.

Updating orientation material for new students to include consent, support and reporting

Orientation materials were reviewed to include in-depth information on Report + Support and other reporting options, SVLOs and other support, definitions of sexual violence and consent, and the Disciplinary Regulation and Procedure. 

A “Demystifying Report + Support” session was launched during Sexual Violence Awareness Week 2022. The Conduct and Respect team have delivered this to various staff and student groups, ensuring that they feel confident in our response to reports of issues like Sexual Violence. 

Introduction of training for all staff on responding to disclosures

In August 2021, we launched "Responding to Disclosures of Sexual Violence", an online course for all staff which focuses on challenging myths and stereotypes, offering immediate support, and signposting to appropriate specialist staff.

The Conduct and Respect team have visited academic departments to raise awareness of reporting mechanisms, the work that is being done, and the support available to students.

Our SVLO team delivered training sessions for Security staff as "first responders", covering the role of the SVLOs, handling disclosures, myths and stereotypes, and Sexual Assault Referral Centres. 

Safer Accommodation Fund

Significant additional funding has been allocated to financially support students identified as feeling unsafe in their current accommodation due to issues of violence, harassment or abuse. 

Sexual Violence Awareness Week 2022

To mark Sexual Violence Awareness Week 2022, the Conduct and Respect team hosted a series of in person and online events. Our “Light Up The Night” walk saw over 100 students and staff stand in solidarity with survivors of Sexual Violence, and hear about the support available for students at the University and in the community. 

We partnered with a local artist and survivor to run an Artivism competition on the theme of “change”, inviting students and staff to create something in any medium. 

We hosted talks on a range of subjects, including:

  • Changing the Conversation around Sexual Violence in Higher Education
  • Behind the Door of a Sexual Assault Referral Centre
  • Changing the Conversation: Sexual Violence in the Trans Community
  • Demystifying Report + Support
  • Dispelling Myths around Sexual Violence

Continued success of the SVLO role

Our SVLOs saw continued growth with 168 new referrals for support in 2021/22; an increase from 116 in 2020/21 and 119 in 2019/20.

We believe that this growth is largely down to the strong reputation of the team and the high quality of support that they are known to deliver. 

Alongside their casework and proactive work, they run a successful Instagram account, providing an accessible way for students who may not be ready to seek support to engage with information. 

The SVLOs have received overwhelmingly positive feedback from those they supported this year: 100% said they would recommend the support to anyone who has experienced sexual violence.

"When we agreed our Sexual Violence Action Plan in 2021, we knew how important it was for us to make progress in tackling this issue. We've achieved a lot since then, including recruiting additional staff, implementing new training, and allocating further funding to support students who feel unsafe in their accommodation.

These are our first steps, and there is more to be done. We will continue to consult student groups and make improvements on this issue, and we will keep you updated on our progress.

Thank you to all the students and staff who have helped us to shape and drive forward this action plan."
Professor Tracy Lightfoot PVC Teaching, Learning and Students

Feedback from students on the SVLO service

"The unconditional support, understanding and patience has truly made a world of difference to me."
“Knowing that they are there if you need them. Being able to talk about what I want to talk about, not a set thing each week.
The safe space that it provides.”

"Starting uni, I found I was completely overwhelmed and had no idea where to turn to for support, but having someone like my SVLO to help navigate it all has been invaluable."
"I was able to find lots of resources that have genuinely changed my life."