It is clear that each University and Higher Education Institution (HEI) has a responsibility to their staff and their students to respond appropriately to any disclosure of sexual violence. Over and above supporting a victim in relation to their educational needs, a university will also need to consider the wider support needs of a victim/survivor following a sexual assault. This might include access to a forensic medical examination, psychological therapies and mental health support or, indeed, sexual health services. It could also include a police investigation and potentially a court case as well as internal disciplinary proceedings. Importantly, each university will need to ensure that they have acted appropriately and their involvement has not done anything to undermine a criminal prosecution or contaminate evidence relating to the sexual offence in the event that the student wants to report the matter to the police at any point either now or in the future. Furthermore, staff could potentially be called as witnesses in a trial, so robust record keeping will need to be in place to account for any involvement the university has had in relation to a sexual assault.
The work that LimeCulture has been doing with universities, has led LimeCulture to believe that developing a Sexual Violence Liaison Officer (SVLO) Model across all Universities is the most effective way of responding effectively to sexual violence in the university context. Importantly, Universities UK agree with LimeCulture about this model, and in their 2016 report of the Taskforce examining violence against women, harassment and hate crime affecting university students ‘Changing the Culture’, UUK are clear that ‘an effective response should involve the identification and up-skilling of specialist staff within the university to act as key people (Sexual Violence Liaison Officers) who will manage the response to a reported incident of sexual violence affecting a student within the university’.
‘The role of the SVLO is to assist the victim/survivor access the support they need following a sexual assault. An SVLO can explain their options about reporting, without putting any judgment or pressure on that person. They can assist them to seek or access specialist support services, health care or forensic services. Crucially, the SVLO can take on the role of a single point of contact within the university for that student or staff member’ explains Kim Doyle, LimeCulture’s joint CEO whose portfolio of work has focused on university responses for the last few years. ‘The SVLO will be responsible for making sure that the University has done all it should in ensuring the needs of the victim/survivor has been met, and are in line with the university policy around such cases’.
“The challenges for Universities in responding to sexual violence are multiple. They are often very large organisations, made up of lots of different departments – or even entirely separate colleges – who are responsible for and have a duty of care towards all of their staff and students whose number could run into tens of thousands’ “It’s extremely difficult for a single University to keep track of how many disclosures of sexual violence are being made across their institute. How can they? A disclosure could be made to many different people within a single university…a trusted tutor, a supportive lecturer, student services, HR, a counsellor, an NUS officer, the list goes on. There are so many staff within a single university that could come into contact with a fellow staff member or student that has experienced sexual violence that it’s really difficult for them to make sure that the response that is given to that disclosure and the subsequent support of the student is appropriate’.
In November 2016 LimeCulture launched a new accredited course for key university staff, the Sexual Violence Liaison Officer (SVLO) Development Programme. This is a two module course that is taught over three day blocks, and since launch has been filled with a range of university-staff who have been selected by their universities to become their key representatives in responding to disclosures of sexual violence. Prospective delegates can book a place on our next course on our Training and Professional Development page
This course provides university staff members with enhanced awareness and understanding of sexual violence, including understanding the impact and needs of victims, how to work in partnership with other agencies involved (including the police) and how and when to make referrals to external support services. The course also focuses on the legal implications of sexual violence and the court process, including internal investigations and what is required from the university. The course is available to staff-members from all universities and HEIs in the UK.
LimeCulture is now delighted to be able to share with universities and HEIs a copy of the model job description for SVLOs. Please click here to download a word version.