Campaign challenges Stirling University’s handling of sexual assault

11 mins read

CONTENT WARNING: This article has mentions of sexual assault and violence. If you have been affected by anything mentioned in this report you can find support at the resources at the end of this article.

Students have launched a campaign aimed at tackling sexual assault at the University of Stirling.

The campaign, named Reclaim Stirling, aims to tackle sexual violence in Stirling and “call out Stirling University for their failure to tackle the culture of sexual violence on campus” and was set up by students Jess Reid, Holly Kinsella and Rachel MacLean.

The campaign organisers have already launched a petition calling on the university’s management to address the “considerable problem with sexual violence at the University of Stirling” and accuses management of failing to address the issue. At the time of publication the petition had been signed by 130 people.

It goes further to say that the current #IsThisOk campaign ran by the university is failing and needs to be replaced.

Alongside the petition the organisers have launched a survey asking for Stirling students to send in their experiences of sexual assault, with details as to where it took place, whether or not it was reported, the reasons for whether they reported it or not, and if they thought that the perpetrator was punished enough for the assault.

The campaign was launched not long after the creation of an Instagram page names Stirling Survivors (which is not connected to Reclaim Stirling) which has been sharing the stories of Stirling students who have experienced both racism and sexual assault.

One of the Reclaim Stirling organisers, third-year politics and history student Holly Kinsella, said:

“The issue of sexual violence at universities is one that is well known across Scotland, and that much of this generation are passionate about tackling.

“Following the failure of our university’s #IsThisOk campaign and the creation of the Stirling Survivors Instagram page, we decided it is time to create a campaign that holds the university to account.

“We need to ensure the university takes decisive action in protecting their students from instances of sexual violence and making sure there are adequate resources to support students who are victims of sexual violence.”

Reclaim Stirling have branded #IsThisOk a “failing” campaign and have accused the university of failing to punish the perpetrators of sexual violence. Credit: Brig/Harry Williamson

The University has refuted the implications made by Reclaim Stirling, and have spoken with Brig about their work to tackle sexual violence in recent years.

Jill Stevenson, Dean for Equality, Diversity and Inclusion, said: “The University recognises that sexual and gender-based violence is pervasive throughout society, including at universities, and we are actively playing our part in tackling this issue through both prevention and response.

“The University and Students’ Union launched their joint strategy on preventing and tackling sexual violence in 2017 and are currently working in partnership to publish a refreshed strategy at the end of this year.

“Our approach is nationally recognised and we are proud of the investment we have made over the past four years, however, we recognise that sexual and gender-based violence persists in society and we are deeply committed to further enhancing our work in this area.

“Since the strategy’s launch, the University has raised awareness of gender-based violence, and the importance of everyone in our community taking steps to tackle it, through our award-winning #IsThisOK campaign.

“We have provided support through the training of a team of Sexual Violence and Misconduct Liaison Officers (SVMLOs), and delivered comprehensive training for students, staff and sports club coaches and officers, instilling into University culture that sexual and gender-based violence will not be tolerated and that everyone is accountable for challenging this behaviour in all forms. 

“The University has also updated its Code of Student Discipline to make it explicit that sexual and gender-based violence will be regarded as the most serious category of offence; developed strong partnerships with local agencies, including Forth Valley Rape Crisis Centre; and enhanced guidance and resources on its dedicated webpages for those who have been affected by sexual violence, or those who are supporting students or colleagues.

“In the near future, we will also launch a new ‘Report and Support’ tool, and associated First Responder Guidance, to further enhance our reporting and response procedures.

“Anyone affected by sexual or gender-based violence who needs support can speak to a SVMLO by emailing svmlo@stir.ac.uk, or by visiting the webpages for contact details of a range of external partners.”

Jill Stevenson talking about the #IsThisOk campaign in 2019. Credit: Clacks Women’s Aid

Speaking with Brig, Jill Stevenson and Students’ Union President Amy Smith discussed the collaborative work between the university and students’ union in a five-year development strategy.

They spoke about how part of their strategy is not just about disclosure and reporting, but also about checking the behaviour of others by being an active bystander, which training has been given to students to pass onto clubs, societies and sports teams.

Stevenson said that one aspect of the uni’s approach was to get people to think critically about their own or their friends’ behaviour, which has been adopted by other institutions.

She added that it has taken a lot of time and involvement to mobilise people and for the campaign to have an impact, due to the students frequently leaving Stirling and new students coming in.

“Just tackling the consequences is not progress,” she said highlighting the other work.

“We have introduced a new layer of offences in the student code, sexual violence and misconduct is now a level three offence, the most serious offences.

“This will demonstrate that it is taken very seriously.”

“It will take a long time to eradicate gender based violence (GBV), and we are just one piece of a jigsaw puzzle,” Stevenson continued.

Union President Amy Smith spoke about the role that the student community can play in the uni’s ongoing campaign.

“The student led aspect of the campaign can really lead to a culture change within the student body.”

The Students’ Union has been working with the University to tackle GBV. Union President Amy Smith has praised student involvement. Credit: Brig/Harry Williamson

Stevenson spoke about the conversation around tackling sexual violence and the criticism of the university’s work.

“It is always important to address the issues if there are any concerns. There are a lot of persistent myths.”

Stevenson spoke about the importance of tackling myths that could stop people coming forward.

The Reclaim Stirling campaign released a statement about their focus to criticise management for failing to punish the perpetrators of sexual assault at the university:

“We would like to make it clear that the Reclaim Stirling campaign has not been created to devalue the important and hardworking counsellors at the University of Stirling.

“What we want to do is hold the University management accountable for their failings to ensure perpetrators are punished, that victims know where and how they can get support and the failure of the #IsThisOk campaign to tackle the culture of sexual violence on campus.

“We appreciate all the work counsellors and other support staff do at the Uni but the facts stand that there is still much to be done and to be improved. Just because the #IsThisOk campaign won an award does not make it impervious to criticism.”

The petition and survey remain active at the date of publication, and the Reclaim Stirling organisers have thanked everyone who has signed the petition and completed the survey.

Brig will bring more updates from the Reclaim Stirling campaign.

If you have been affected by sexual assault and violence, you can find support at these organisations.

Support from the University can be found here:

Featured Image: Brig/Harry Williamson

Journalist
| Deputy Editor - Brig Newspaper | Features Reporter - Tales From Lockdown | Brig News Editor 2018-2020 | Brig News Reporter 2017-2018 | Reporting on News, Features, Politics, Social Affairs, Crime and Sport | SPANC 2019 Highly Commended - Best Feature | SPANC 2020 Shortlisted - Best News Story | Bylines The Oban Times | Contact: harrywilliamson.news@gmail.com

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