Image: Warwick Media Library

The University of Warwick’s staff training not approved by The Survivors Trust

TW: sexual assault, mention of rape 

On 9 June, after an 11-week occupation on campus and independent mediation, Protect Warwick Women (PWW) and the University of Warwick came to “a positive and mutually acceptable conclusion to the protest.” The first-year-led group had been campaigning for systemic change to the University’s procedure in handling cases of sexual harassment and assault.

However, prior to this agreement, PWW publicly announced that the University had misled them about the training given to staff to handling cases of sexual assault and interacting with victims. The group claimed that the University had lied about the training provided to staff, stating that it was approved by The Survivors Trust when this was not the case.

A subsequent investigation by The Boar has found that the statement made by PWW on the 23 May at their ‘protest for student welfare’ has also found that to date, The Survivors Trust “have not had sight of any of [Warwick University’s] policies or training.” The Trust has also not “approved, or been asked to approve, any of their training or policies given to staff supporting victims of sexual harassment and assault.”

The trust is the UK’s national umbrella agency for organisations working to tackle sexual violence

As part of the initial stages of the PWW protest, the group posted a list of proposals on 22 March that focused on five key areas: training, making campus physically safer, improving support services for survivors, strengthening disciplinary procedures, and increasing transparency and accountability. One of the key aims, listed first in the group’s demands, was to “revamp training of Staff, RLT and Security regarding sexual violence and consent”. 

For the group, this meant that “All training must require active participation in order to ensure that all information must be understood. The current Moodle is structured in a way that it can just be skipped through. The proposed training program must be approved by Sexpression, IHH, and WASS. Including a consent course.”

At the end of this subsection of their proposals, PWW noted that The Survivors Trust offered a training programme. The trust is the UK’s national umbrella agency for organisations working to tackle sexual violence, providing infrastructure for 125 specialist groups. 

A spokesperson for The Survivors Trust described their training programme as “based on a trauma-informed approach. In a nutshell, this means recognising the impact of trauma on those who experience it, and being able to respond sensitively and appropriately to this. This includes recognising the signs and symptoms of trauma, acknowledging the impact of traumatic experiences, actively seeking to avoid re-traumatisation, and integrating an understanding of trauma into organisational policy and practice.”

In response to the list of demands, the University published a detailed response to the protestor’s demands, entitled ‘PWW proposals and responses’. This documentation was attached to a community update page that informed all students of the ongoing talks between the two parties.  

The statement [on staff training] was updated three weeks ago to more accurately reflect how we are working with the Survivors’ Trust. There was no intention to mislead, and we apologised for any confusion this caused

– The Univeristy of Warwick

Initially, the University’s response to PWW’s proposal for a change to staff training read: “The training we use is already approved by The Survivors Trust, and the Student Liaison Officers are trained using The Survivor’s Trust accredited ISVA programme.”  

However, on 23 May, PWW stated that they had been in contact with The Survivors Trust and found that the University training was not approved by them. This resulted in the University issuing the following statement on 25 May: The statement [on staff training] was updated three weeks ago to more accurately reflect how we are working with the Survivors’ Trust. There was no intention to mislead, and we apologised for any confusion this caused.

“The Survivors’ Trust, who are experts on these matters, are providing advice and guidance on how we improve our existing practices. We hope to be able to work collaboratively with them – as well as with our students – to develop our training and embed a truly trauma-informed ethos across all areas of the University.  We are going to work towards securing their Trauma-Informed Employer (TIE) Quality Mark, which demonstrates that we are able to respond professionally and sensitively to domestic and sexual violence – no matter how it impacts upon our organisation. Our Student Liaison Officers are also trained using The Survivor’s Trust-informed programme.”

The University’s community update page was changed to state: “There are two areas – on training and security – where we do not feel that these demands are appropriate. However, we do take these concerns seriously, and as such, have contacted The Survivors’ Trust for their advice and guidance on how we improve our existing practices. We hope to be able to work collaboratively with them – as well as with our students – to develop our training and embed a truly trauma-informed ethos across all areas of the University.”

On 8 June, the University updated the ‘PWW proposals and responses’ document, retracting their initial statement that The Survivors Trust had approved their staff training. The section on the training of staff now reads: “The training we used is based on advice and guidance from The Survivor’s Trust. The Student Liaison Officers are trained using The Survivor’s Trust accredited ISVA programme.” 

We have not worked with Warwick University on any other training. We have not approved, or been asked to approve, any of their training or policies. To date, we have not had sight of any of their policies or training

– Spokesperson for The Survivors Trust

Following the initial claim by PWW, and again after the change of wording to the University’s response, The Boar contacted The Survivor’s Trust. On both 26 May and 14 June, the Trust has stated that the University has not approached them for formal advice and guidance on their current training policy for staff. 

When asked if the Trust had provided any formal advice or guidance to the University, a spokesperson from The Survivors Trust stated on 14 June: “The only training that Warwick University have ever completed with The Survivors Trust to date is the ISVA (Independent Sexual Violence Advocate) training, which four members of staff in total (2 of whom were Student Liaison Officers) have completed. This training is specifically for people working directly with survivors of sexual violence, rather than a more general awareness training or one which can be applied to other areas. We do not know whether the members of staff are still at Warwick University, or – if they are – whether they are putting their training into practice.”

They went on to say: “We have not worked with Warwick University on any other training. We have not approved, or been asked to approve, any of their training or policies. To date, we have not had sight of any of their policies or training. As mentioned, if they were to work with us on our TIE training, this would involve an in-depth review of their policies and training among others.”

They have also confirmed that the University has reached out to them – the two had initial conversations about what the Trust’s trauma-based training involves. They are currently waiting on whether the University will proceed with the training, and “haven’t had any other dialogue with the University” since 28 May.  

When contacted for comment, the University reiterated the statement made on 25 May regarding their relationship with the Trust. They concluded that “all historic documentation was updated following mediation”. They did not confirm whether they would be committing to The Survivors Trust training for all members of staff on the frontline of handling cases of sexual assault. 

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