Project period: September 2018 – April 2019

This community previously received Initiator Funding for the project: Addressing ‘Gender-based Violence’

GW4 community leads 
University of Bath: Tina Skinner 
University of Bristol: Geetanjali Gangoli & Marianne Hester 
Cardiff University: Kirsty Hudson 
University of Exeter: Rachel Fenton (PI) & Cassandra Jones (co-PI) 

Project overview 

The Network has identified a clear research opportunity to construct an ecological, theoretical model of gender-based violence (GBV) relevant to UK universities. 

The elimination of gender-based violence (GBV) is a human rights priority both internationally (United Nations, Council of Europe, 2011, hereafter Istanbul Convention) and domestically. New movements (e.g. #MeToo, #TimesUp, and #MeTooPhD) brought to the forefront of public consciousness the prevalence of GBV and the scale of the impact in women’s everyday lives in education, in the home, and in the workplace. The World Health Organisation found those experiencing GBV were more than two times as likely to experience mental health issues and thus declared it “a global health problem of epidemic proportions”.  

The Istanbul Convention defined GBV as any act of violence and abuse that disproportionately affects women and is rooted in systematic power differences and inequalities between men and women. This study will focus on two forms of GBV: domestic violence and abuse (DVA) and sexual violence (SV), specifically in the context of UK universities. The proposers chose universities because of the international body of evidence indicating that they are significant sites for GBV and because at this moment in history universities are under intense scrutiny and pressure to act. 

In Changing the Culture (2016), Universities UK called for universities to take action to prevent and combat GBV, including (limited) legal guidance for investigations. The Higher Education Funding Council for England subsequently made funding available for universities to undertake work in this area but responses are not being evaluated by methodologically sound research. Knowledge is essential to effectively prevent, combat, and investigate, but currently little is known. A limited number of studies have started to address this gap but they have not been guided by a contextualised theoretical framework, and responses by universities have been ad hoc and piecemeal. step-change is needed in this research and policy/practice area to develop a theoretical framework to do methodologically rigorous research of the problem and universities’ responses. 

Project summary 

The community engaged with a wide network of experts to gain knowledge about higher education, student experiences and support, as well as methodological and quantitative analysis skills. This enabled the community to begin scoping what is known about GBV in UK universities and a survey was developed and distributed to universities, including queries on “in house” research conducted on GBV and awareness of policies and procedures. Within the GW4 universities the community held workshops for GW4 university support services and one for GW4 student union representatives to understand best practices and student experiences regionally. The community conducted doctrinal research into legal frameworks and current law applicable to universities. Based on these activities and research the community expanded on an existing framework to develop a model tailored to UK universities – described in a working paper. 

Community site (GW4 Portal)