Cambridge University create ‘Breaking the Silence’ online platform to tackle sexual assault and harassment

“Breaking the silence” is the codification of many old policies into one centralised place, while the construction of many new policies, such as a new anonymous form to monitor sexual assault and harassment

breaking the silence Cambridge Cambridge University harassment policy sexual assault policy

"Breaking the silence" is thought by the University to be a new, innovative way to tackle sexual assault and harassment. It is the first step that the university has taken to offer a centralised platform to tackle such issues. Now, rather than through the collegiate system, students can by-pass their tutors and report problems directly to the centralised university authorities.

'Breaking the silence' covers a series of policies, such as workshops, anonymous form to collate data, and a new policy between student and teachers in Cambridge.

The impetus for the development of a policy that prohibits, or at least discourage personal relationships to develop was a report by the Guardian, whereby it was stated that 32% of Universities, Cambridge included, lacked a policy over such relationships.

In response therefore, the University has stated that relationships between student and staff should be "avoided". In particular cases where there might be "favouritism" and "professional connection" these relationships must be disclosed to a senior member of HR. Moreover, the university has stressed that "if the member of staff is unsure… they should disclose".

On this website, it offers an anonymous form which allows students, staff or a visitor to Cambridge to disclose information on sexual harassment and assault incidents. The university have stated on the website that information provided by the website "will be collated and analysed to help monitor the prevalence of incidents that take place and understand the impact of initiatives run by the collegiate University and Students' Union".

Questions that are asked by this form include whether one believes what the causes of their particular incident were, as well as the position of the perpetrator within the university, whether that be student, staff member of member of the public, and questions over what occurred within the sexual assault.

Due to the anonymity of the form, the University has stated that it is not possible to investigate such cases. This must therefore just serve as a way for the university to monitor the effectiveness of its own policies in relation to sexual assault and harassment.

The "Breaking the silence" website

The "Breaking the silence" website

Among the anonymous form, and the new policy on student staff relationships, the university will also be hosting trial workshop focusing on 'Bystander Intervention Initiative' in some colleges. According to UWE's website, where this developed, this is a "free resource with an educational toolkit to be used by universities and colleges for the prevention of sexual coercion and domestic abuse in university settings." The basis behind this policy focuses on "changing the social norms in that peer culture that support problematic and abusive behaviour", where it also states that this is empowering through positivity, in this case wanting to empower both men and women to tackle sexual violence.

As Lola Olufemi, women's officer of CUSU has stated, this campaign is about empowering individuals to "challenge the spaces they are in. This is how you change a culture".

This campaign is a positive, and proactive stance of the university towards such matters. Time will tell whether such policies will be effective, yet it shows that the university is not turning a blind eye to sexual assault and harassment.