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Meet the group who campaigned for UCL’s new system for anonymously reporting sexual harassment

It’s part of the Women’s Network campaign to tackle sexual harassment at UCL

UCL will launch a sexual harassment "Report and Support" system for students by February 2019.

The system will allow students to anonymously report incidents of sexual harassment that have happened to them at UCL and in accommodation.

The new system was announced following months of dedicated campaigning by UCL’s Women’s Officer, Abeni Olayinka Adeyemi, and The Women’s Network.

Similar systems have been successfully introduced at other unis, including at Cardiff, where 100 students came forward in the first few months.

It's "the first kind of natural step into investigating the issue of sexual harassment on campus in a structured way," says Abeni, UCL's women's officer.

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We spoke to Abeni to find out about the new system, and what the Women's Network do.

"The system is anonymous and very straightforward"

The system was only recently introduced for staff in October, but is the by-product of extensive activism on the part of the Women's network who are elated with UCL's recent proactive stance.

"Report and Support" is a unified reporting mechanism designed to tackle the shortcomings of the old online reporting tool.

The old reporting procedure did not easily allow anonymous reporting and involved student's being subject to an excessive referral process through multiple departments in order to receive support and guidance.

Abeni explained to the London Tab that the new system "is anonymous, and is very straightforward."

She said: "You can report any kind of incident; sexual harassment, bullying, victimisation and then the institution actually does the work and takes it to the right people who will deal with this which is a lot more effective."

The complexities of the old system were stopping people reporting

Reform of the sexual harassment reporting system is the primary focal point of the Women’s Network’s agenda. Abeni hopes that the new system will increase the number of student reporting incidents of sexual harassment.

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Taken at Gendered Islamophobia event: From left to right: Abeni, Fatima Diriye (panel member), Sultanah Parvin (panel member) and Celia Esteban Cerna (open portfolio member)

The old system left many students remaining unaware of how to report sexual harassment, to the extent that an NUS report in 2015 estimated 2/3 of freshers across the country remained unaware of the course of action to take.

The bureaucratic complexities of the old reporting system deterred many students from reporting sexual harassment which led to skewed data about the amount of harassment occurring on campus.

The Women's Network have been lobbying UCL to introduce the system

The Women’s Network is a "community for women and non-binary students on campus, who collectively work together to improve their stay on campus," says Abeni. "The network creates policies that effect changes."

In October, UCL became involved in a scandal following their refusal to provide data to supplement a Guardian investigation into the rifeness of sexual harassment across British universities.

The Network subsequently lobbied for the incorporation of students into the system using UCL's promises to be more "transparent". Abeni argued that UCL were incapable of fulfilling their promises of being "open" about their data because, up until the launching of Report and Support, they had "neglected to collect" accurate data.

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"Despite UCL claiming they wanted to be more open with their data," she says, "their continued refusal to include students in the Report and Support framework to me highlighted that they didn’t [actually] want to hear what’s going on."

Nonetheless, following recent policy progress, Abeni claims that changes in UCL's attitude are starting to materialise. Unlike in the past, where Abeni claims zero tolerance was used as a "buzzword," thrown around without a lot of backing in terms of institutionalised policy and enforcement- Report and Support appears to signify a "proactive" and concrete step in the right direction.

UCLU are also training people on how to recognise sexual harassment and how to intervene

In addition to 'Report and Support,' the Union has been providing active bystander training throughout the year. This training involved teaching people how to recognise sexual harassment when its happening and how to intervene. 4,000 people have currently been trained under this scheme.

Despite bystander training representing a progressive and necessary step in the right direction, it remains an option and not an obligation.

"You can attend it if you want and there is no compulsory exposure to everyone," says Abeni.

Subsequently, Abeni and the Women’s Network are seeking to go beyond this. The network not only wants to train people in how to report and mitigate incidences of sexual harassment when they occur but attack the culture of ignorance surrounding ideas of consent. "We want to advocate a preventative rather than reactionary approach", she says.

One approach that is currently being considered is the incorporation of teaching about consent in UCL's enrolment process, which would mean knowledge of active consent would become a prerequisite for student citizenship at UCL.

"Teaching freshers what active consent is and equally as important – what consent is not," says Abeni. The training would remove the possibility of ignorance as an excuse for harassment.

Overall, UCL's current approach to issues of sexual harassment appears to be characterised by "a feeling of cooperation rather than antagonism" highlighting an obviously positive trajectory since October.

This progress is partly due to the Women's Network, who are working tirelessly to secure institutionalised progress to protect self identifying women's rights and dignity within the student population.

For more information on the Women's Network's policies/events or to find out how you can get involved, find them on Instagram (@womensnetwork), Twitter (@ UCLU_WomensNet) or Facebook (UCL Women's Network). You can contact Abeni directly at [email protected]