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Otago campaign encourages students to speak up against sexual violence

Friday 3 July 2020 12:45pm

A new Otago marketing campaign aims to give students the confidence to speak up for others and intervene in situations where inappropriate sexual behaviour is occurring or could be about to occur.

The just-released campaign, “Before it Starts”, has been produced by the University of Otago’s Sexual Violence Support and Prevention Centre, Te Whare Tāwharau.

Its launch on the Dunedin campus coincides with Re-Orientation week and the start of Semester Two, which will see students return to in-person lectures and campus life.

Researchers worked with multiple student focus groups of different gender and nationality to develop six situational awareness posters using relatable language approved by students.

The campaign aims to give students a voice and focuses on hypothetical conversations in which the bystander intervenes.

Academic Director and Associate Professor Melanie Beres, University of Otago 2020 image
Associate Professor Melanie Beres.

Te Whare Tāwharau Academic Director and Associate Professor Melanie Beres says the campaign messaging highlights problematic rape culture attitudes, such as “Look how drunk they are, I’m gonna make a move”, and offers ways to interrupt such as “I’m gonna have to stop you there”.

“Sexual violence is a complex issue and one that impacts everyone. In order to change and reduce sexual violence, we all need to get involved,” Associate Professor Beres says.

The campaign comes as the result of research conducted by Te Whare Tāwharau research manager Katie Graham, which examined barriers to university students’ willingness to attend sexual violence prevention workshops.

Although a range of prevention programmes has been developed to run on university campuses worldwide, educators have long struggled with the problem of low voluntary student participation.

Ms Graham and her research team conducted focus groups with students in residential colleges, to discover what influenced their decisions to attend or avoid prevention programmes.

Although focus group participants agreed sexual violence prevention education was important and relevant, particularly for first year university students, they identified three key social and cultural barriers to attendance.

The first barrier was the belief that sexual violence is not personally relevant.

One participant said prior to participating in a workshop on bystander awareness, she perceived sexual violence as “just something that would happen in America” because of a perceived association between fraternities and sexual violence.

Others echoed that sentiment, with one student saying she did not feel she needed to attend a prevention workshop because she does not drink alcohol or date.

Ms Graham says these sentiments suggest students understood sexual violence as an individual rather than a community issue, or something that didn’t affect them directly.

The second barrier identified by students was the notion they were already familiar with sexual violence prevention, having learned about it in high school.

Those who had gone on to attend a university prevention programme came to realise it was more in-depth than their previous education and covered new issues of relevance to their life at university.

A final barrier was the concern about how students who attended prevention programmes might be perceived by their peers.

As one student explained, there is a fear that attending a workshop might make it difficult to make friends or form relationships, leading to missing out on the workshop.

For male attendees, there was stigma associated with attendance at prevention workshops, as men were often represented as perpetrators and attendance could signify an admission of potential offending.

Researchers examined whether mandatory attendance at workshops would be an effective solution.

However, Associate Professor Beres says compulsory education is not always effective and students may not be as engaged as they would when attendance is voluntary.

She says the new marketing campaign communicates to students that sexual violence is a community issue and as bystanders they can have a positive impact on preventing sexual violence occurring.

Students can expect to see the campaign posters and messaging displayed in prominent places such as university libraries and colleges.

Research publication details:

A qualitative exploration of barriers to university students’ willingness to attend sexual violence prevention workshops

Katie Graham, Gareth J. Treharne, Nicola Liebergreen, Zoran Stojanov, Rachel Shaw, and Melanie A. Beres.

Taylor & Francis Online

Read the research article online here

For more information, please contact:

Associate Professor Melanie Beres
Te Whare Tāwharau Academic Director
University of Otago
Tel +64 3 479 8736
Email melanie.beres@otago.ac.nz

Team Leader Media Engagement
Communications Office
University of Otago
Tel +64 3 479 8263
Mob +64 21 279 8263