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Campaigning Against Sexual Violence at the University of Leeds

Until sitting down to speak with them in tandem to this article, I wasn’t fully aware that the Harassment and Misconduct team existed at the University, or maybe I just subconsciously assumed we had one and never thought much more of it. At any rate, I definitely wasn’t clued into who they are or what services they provide. I suppose this is a good thing, a privilege that in my nearly four years on campus I haven’t had to seek them out. But it also speaks to the void so many crucial University teams and facilities fall subject to. Lost in a deluge of university emails or posters in Eddie B.  


Over the last few months, the Harassment and Misconduct team have been working to change this. In partnership with LUU and through a several pronged attack they are aiming to not only raise awareness of their own services but educate on consent and recognising sexual violence. With its roots in the upsurge of spiking incidents over two years ago which led to the team being set up in the first place, the focus of this campaign is prevention. Although the team exists day to day to help people deal with the after affects, they recognise that it is essential to place as much emphasis on stopping these behaviours happening as it is offering support afterwards.  


The campaign is derived from and in continual conversation with students. Numerous focus groups and data collection contributed to the campaign messaging along with LUU societies like SASHA and Sexpression providing content. The result has been the implementation of life size silhouettes around campus with testimonials from students at Leeds along with posters aiming to help students recognise sexual abuse when they come across it. A large emphasis has been placed through these conversations to make sure that the team is putting the issue in student language and detaching it from outdated terms or biases so that it is accessible to all.  


Whilst chatting with the team I raised the point that some students may find the silhouettes or posters around campus lightly triggering and I was reassured that not only had these campaigns been run past hundreds of students again and again but that the team were fully aware of the sensitivity of their campaign. ‘But if we aren’t doing anything we aren’t making any change. It’s not necessarily about not doing it or doing it but finding the right way to do it.’ Something they are still very much open to learning.  


This ‘right way of doing it’ certainly seems at the forefront of the campaign. The team recognised the importance of partnering with LUU as something they have always wanted to do. Not only does this give them access to new places where their campaign can be heard but LUU also ‘have students trust in a different way,’ they can access students in a way University of Leeds teams can’t. Working together to implement change which actually works for the students of Leeds seems to underpin everything the team are working towards. The team recognised that the University hasn’t been doing enough and that SASHA have had to fill a gap in harassment conduct training which was left by the University. They are working to change this and collaborate with both students and societies to create a Leeds specific sexual violence training that comes both from students and for students. The whole outlook is refreshingly student orientated for a university often out of touch with the young people it houses. I also really admired the Leeds centric self-awareness the team offered. There was an admission that although sexual violence is connected to a bigger societal issue, the main focus for them needed to be making our corner of the world safer, making Leeds safer for the students who live here. 


Along with the posters and silhouettes, back in February the team also handed out 500 free boxes of fries to highlight the FRIES model of consent and raise awareness of their campaign. Moving forward, they’ll be bringing a unique immersive experience to campus where students will be posed with scenarios in everyday environments to test their ability to recognise sexual violence in day-to-day life.  


Follow the link to their website if you would like to learn more about the team and their campaign, along with practical ways you can help make Leeds safer for everyone. They are also keen for students to get in touch to work with them especially societies who would like to collaborate on the subject at hand. 


The Harassment and Misconduct Team at University of Leeds:  


The Sexual Violence Campaign: 


Words by Julia Brookes (she/her) 


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