Following many high profile incidents of sexual assault and harassment in and around Exeter last year, the University of Exeter is introducing a series of new measures to tackle the issue this academic year.
From September 2021 a consent training module is being added to the curriculum for all students. Bystander training will also be offered, with a focus on racial equality and gender safety. A night bus service will operate 3 days a week until 4am in conjunction with Stagecoach to support students returning to campus from the city centre after nights out. The University is also offering £25k to support student-led gender safety initiatives. This follows the £25k offered to student led anti-racism schemes last year. The University is also developing a service to help those coping with the trauma of sexual violence. They are working with Devon Rape Crisis this year to introduce a new joint post, based part-time on our Streatham Campus, to support victims.
The management team have put forward the issue of better on-campus lighting to its security team, and are in talks with the council about installing more lighting around town, and more CCTV cameras in poorly-lit areas. These measures are partially the result of a series of meetings between University management and student groups, including the organisers of the Sit Down N Shut Up movement against sexual assault on campus. The group are pleased with how open the University has been to their ideas, saying that they found them “willing to listen and put changes in place to make students feel safer around campus and in Exeter,” and that they “would be happy to carry on working alongside them.”
Willing to listen and put changes in place to make students feel safer around campus and in Exeter”
This move comes after last year saw three non-students arrested following two assaults on campus, and the University of Exeter received 65 testimonies in just the first week of the survivors’ platform Everyone’s Invited calling students to share their assault stories. This was the most of any university in the UK. These cases, alongside the murder of Lorraine Cox in Exeter and the national protests about the murder of Sarah Everard led to a year filled with protests on gender-based violence around Exeter.
On campus, this took the form of the Sit Down and Shut Up sit-in protest, at which students shared testimonies of their experiences of assault, and demanded better support from the University and new policies to help make women feel safer on campus and around Exeter.
In response, Exeposé sent an FOI to the University of Exeter regarding gender safety incidents to see how well this apparently widespread problem was reflected in official statistics. This includes the reporting of sexual harassment, violence and abuse as well as transphobia. In the past five years there appears to be a general increase in the number of sexual misconducts reported, although it is difficult to know whether more incidents are occurring or simply whether more are being reported. Student sexual misconduct is the only type of incident stated that has occurred every year. In 2015/16 only 2 had been reported, while in 2019/20 the number had risen to 6. As for information surrounding staff, only one incident of a staff writing a transphobic tweet over the years was stated, while alleged sexual harassment and assault involving a staff member was 0 in 2015/16, but there have been at least 2 reports every year since.
It is important to note that in regards to student cases, sexual harassment and sexual violence is now investigated under Exeter’s Sexual Misconduct procedure, which was introduced in November 2019. Prior to that transphobia and sexual misconduct reports were treated as formal complaints. The definition of harassment used by the University in response to the FOI is “unwanted behaviour which violates your dignity, makes you feel intimidated, degraded or humiliated and creates a hostile or offensive environment. This can include sexual and non-sexual harassment, examples of which are derogatory/offensive comments, bullying, unwanted touching, intimidation and more.”
These sexual misconduct and harassment figures reflect a fraction of the student sexual misconduct cases. These were voiced in testimonies to Everyone’s Invited and to the Sit Down and Shut Up’s Instagram account last year. Survivors’ anxiety about the formal complaint process prevented official statistics from representing the extent of this problem.