Sex education in schools is notoriously flawed, almost everyone has shared the same critique about a lack of breadth in topics – a common disregarded area is the failure in defining consent which leads to sexual violence. With 9,557 sexual offences having been reported in Scotland between 2014-2015, it’s clear action to combat this needs to be more sophisticated than fear mongering young girls to not drink or be outdoors after dark. Better education to understand what sexual violence can consist of, the importance of consent, and how a bystander can help prevention will help reduce cases by clarifying what is unacceptable behaviour as well as teaching others how to recognise and prevent such behaviour in their lives.
For the first time ever, sexual violence prevention workshops have taken place at Glasgow University. During the week commencing 29th August, around twenty-five student volunteers from both the University of Glasgow and Glasgow Caledonian Universities took part in a week long course, engaging students from all corners of student life, representatives from the ‘Let’s Talk’ campaign, all student unions, and everyone in between. Facilitated by Rape Crisis Scotland, the course equipped activists with skills to lead their own training in future, including training freshers’ helpers.
The programme trains students with knowledge regarding what sexual violence is, why consent is so important, bystander intervention including how to intervene in a dangerous situation, and how to handle a survivors’ disclosure of sexual violence. The aim of raising awareness of sexual violence amongst students is, ultimately, to reduce it. The now-trained team will also train more volunteers on a rolling basis throughout the year.
Rachel Kerr, Sexpression:Glasgow branch co-ordinator and Let’s Talk activist took part in the programme, describing it as making her feeling more ‘empowered and confident’. She also commented that the training consolidated her pre-existing knowledge on the topic, albeit in a more concise manner. In future, she hopes that the training is rolled out across both universities involved, and would love to see it inspire other student groups across Scotland.
Kerr also praised the number of people involved without a history of activism: that includes Ryan O’Fee, a second year student at Glasgow. He says he may have not heard about the programme without having friends involved in it, which inspired him to do so too. He commended the style of training: rather than bombarding participants, a lot of training was in discussion groups, and dealt sensitively with such an important topic. Ultimately, O’Fee would encourage anybody – including those who feel that it’s not their area of expertise, or without a long resume of activism – to get involved in future.
Freshers’ week is fantastic, however it’s also a time when the danger of sexual violence can increase, therefore it’s important to have helpers trained in prevention to better support the freshers. With all the helpers trained, anyone should feel free to talk to a helper if they at all feel unsafe or simply uncomfortable with someone’s advances. It’s important that everyone understands that they always have the right to say “no”. If you ever feel like someone is pushing too hard for a relationship you don’t feel comfortable with, or you find yourself in a situation where you’re separated from your friends and stranded with someone you wish not to be, then talk to a fresher helper, and they will help. Fresher helpers can walk you home or help you find your friends and ensure you’re safe. They’re there to help as well as make sure you have fun during your freshers week.
Communication is hugely important. Communicate what you do and do not feel comfortable with. Communicate if you ever need some extra support. Communicate if someone’s behaviour is distressing you in any way.
[Amy Shimmin & Michaela Barton]
Rape Crisis Scotland offers a number of ways for getting into touch with them if you ever feel the need to talk to someone professional.
Free helpline, open every day 6pm to midnight: 08088 01 03 02
Fax and minicom: 0141 332 2168 (Office) 0141 353 3091 (Helpline)