MPs call for compulsory student training to stop sexual violence

Committee wants bystander training as regulatory condition and calls universities’ use of NDAs to silence victims in sex cases ‘disgraceful’

July 5, 2023

Tackling sexual harassment and abuse in English universities requires “compulsory evidence-based bystander intervention programmes for all first-year students”, imposed as a regulatory condition, according to a committee of MPs.

The House of Commons Women and Equalities Committee publishes a report on attitudes to women and girls in educational settings on 5 July.

In it, they recommend that conditions of registration imposed by the Office for Students (OfS), the sector regulator, “should require all universities to put in place compulsory evidence-based bystander intervention programmes for all first-year students”. The OfS previously told the committee that it was planning a new condition of registration to tackle sexual misconduct in universities.

Bystander intervention training aims to train individuals to step in to prevent sexual assaults or harassment.

The MPs also recommend that the Department for Education “should develop a nationwide sexual harassment and sexual violence awareness campaign that particularly targets male university students”.

They call progress in the higher education sector on addressing sexual harassment and violence “inconsistent and slow”.

“It is disgraceful that universities in England have used non-disclosure agreements to silence victims of sexual harassment and violence,” the committee also says. “Given the number of universities still to commit to banning the use of NDAs, we are pleased to see the government endorse legislative proposals to prevent this abhorrent practice. Universities need to improve their whistleblowing policies to end the culture of silence regarding sexual abuse and violence in higher education institutions.”

Discussing evidence given to the committee in its inquiry, the MPs say: “Although influential stakeholders, such as Universities UK and the Office for Students, have recommended bystander intervention programmes, experts in bystander intervention were concerned that most universities did not invest the time and money in putting evidence-based programmes in place.”

They add: “The Office for Students told us that placing a regulatory requirement on universities to provide bystander training was something it was ‘thinking about quite carefully’. Susan Lapworth, chief executive, told us that the OfS would ‘try to frame’ what it considered to be credible bystander prevention training as part of its consultation on a new condition of registration.”

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Reader's comments (2)

This has great potential but even more so if there were to be joined-up action that started in the school settings. Also a focus on men's responsibility to call out male violence against women should underpin these interventions. Rigorous evaluation would show its effectiveness or otherwise and ensure it was tweaked as necessary.
However well intentioned, such a class is likely to be ignored or even ridiculed. Those students who know how to behave will tune out, those who don't will be unlikely to change their spots and may be disruptive. Best to create a culture of kindness, where people are considerate of one another irrespective of gender, race or other trivia. You do that by LIVING it, not talking about it in often risable mandated sessions.