All university staff in Scotland are being given credit-card sized cards with guidance on how to handle complaints of sexual harassment and abuse, as academics and support staff increasingly find themselves on the front line of reporting.
Universities Scotland has printed 150,000 cards, which include six steps on how to respond to a disclosure of gender-based violence as well as details of national specialist support services. Each university also had the option to customise their cards to include details of their own support services.
The intention is that all staff in Scotland’s universities and colleges – including academics, support staff, cleaners and security staff – as well as employees at private student accommodation providers, will carry one at all times.
The cards were produced in collaboration with colleges and universities, staff and student unions and women’s charities and are designed to fit in wallets and purses and behind staff ID badges.
The idea was based on an initiative from the #EmilyTest campaign, led by Fiona Drouet, whose daughter took her own life in 2016 while studying at the University of Aberdeen following a campaign of abuse and violence by her boyfriend.
Susannah Lane, head of public affairs at Universities Scotland, said that the issue of gender-based violence “came to everyone’s attention” as a result of the #MeToo movement but Scottish universities “hadn’t really been active in this area and we found ourselves on the back foot”.
She said that staff still have a “fear of doing something wrong” when approached by a student who is suffering from gender-based violence, which can prevent them from offering advice or knowing where to refer them to.
“Anybody could receive a disclosure of gender-based violence or witness something [but] not everybody gets the first responder or the bystander training. We don’t want either a student to be left vulnerable and without the proper referrals or a staff member to feel that they didn’t do the right thing in the moment and regret that missed opportunity,” she said.
“The cards definitely recognise that they will be used by people who are not experts and they are very careful not to give the person carrying the card that false confidence. The encouragement is onward referral quickly to the experts in gender-based violence who can help them from then on.”
Ms Lane stressed that the cards are not a substitute for universities’ policies or training on gender-based violence, but are a short-term measure to recognise the reality that not all staff have received guidance on how to handle such issues.