• Tackling Sexual Violence at UCLan: The Bystander Initiative

The National Union of Students (NUS) has been active in highlighting issues of sexual harassment and violence on university campus in the UK since 2010. They carried out a survey in 2009/10 of 2,000 women students which asked about experiences of sexual harassment and violence, stalking, domestic abuse and financial abuse. The findings are that 14% of students have experienced serious physical or sexual assault and 68% have been subject to verbal or physical sexual harassment (NUS, 2011).

The Universities UK Taskforce published its report on tackling sexual harassment and hate crime in UK universities in 2016 (UUK, 2016).

The report identifies five key components for change:

  1. A commitment from senior leadership
  2. Ensuring a consistent institutional approach is developed collaboratively and with significant input from students (and relevant experts where necessary)
  3. Prevention of incidents
  4. Enabling an effective response
  5. Effective external collaboration to enhance the support offered to students.

This project responds to the third component: prevention of incidents and has been discussed with the Students Union at UCLan and with the Tackling Sexual Violence and Hate Crime Task Force working group at UCLan.

There is unanimous agreement between these parties that a bystander initiative is the most appropriate way forward in relation to prevention of incidents. The Student’s Union at UCLan are also fully supportive of this initiative and are running a series of events aimed at club stewards which will complement the bystander intervention.

Prevention of incidents

The UUK report advocates utilising evidence-based bystander initiatives to support students to be agents of change by fostering a positive, respectful and pro social culture which sets clear behavioural expectations. Fenton et al (2016) undertook a review of bystander initiatives funded by Public Health England (PHE) from which a toolkit was developed as a resource specifically for UK universities (Intervention Initiative toolkit). UCLan began a pilot of the toolkit in the academic year 2017-18.

Essentially, the intervention comprises four elements for moving bystanders from inaction to action:

  1. Noticing the event
  2.  Interpreting it as a problem
  3. Feeling responsibility for dealing with it
  4. Possess the necessary skills to act

The toolkit offers a full range of resources and uses active learning methods, practice scenarios to recognise problematic behaviour and role-play to develop skills. It requires skilled facilitators to deliver the programme. 

The toolkit has been piloted with first year students in Social Work and Sports Coaching.  Students have participated in pre and post-training questionnaires and post-training focus groups and interviews.  Staff members delivering the programme have also taken part in focus groups.  Research activities have been approved by the PSYSOC ethic committee at UCLan.

To which research grouping does this project/activity belong?

Connect Centre

Project Lead

Dr Khatidja Chantler

Collaborators and Partners

This also links to a large scale internationally funded research study (SSHRC, Canada), led by Shariff (McGill) and on which Dr Chantler is co-applicant. The findings from the UCLan will provide relevant data to the wider study:

IMPACTS: Collaborations to address Sexual Violence on Campus


  • Contribute to the development of future university policies, as well as innovative, student-relevant curricula addressing sexual violence and consent.
  • Better understand, address and work to change the culture surrounding sexual violence in universities.
  • Work towards the prevention of incidents.
  • Improve student safety.
  • Provide greater understanding of domestic and sexual violence.