SU Sport Officer Update - Sexual Abuse and Violence Awareness Week

Blog Post

SU Sport Officer Update

Sexual Abuse and Violence Awareness Week

Sexual Abuse and Violence within Sport – Can sport organizations play a role in reducing violence against girls and women, and what is the Students Union and the University of Bath doing to help.

Sexual violence is a general term used to describe any unwanted sexual activity and includes any act of violence, coercion or manipulation, regardless of the relationship to the victim. Sport settings have specific features which pose increased risk for sexual abuse to occur such as, close and trustful relationships between coach and athlete, as well as between teammates. Findings have shown that 38% of athletes have experienced sexual violence, ranging from milder aggressions such as sexual remarks or sexist jokes, to severe sexual abuse (Ohlert et al, 2017), the perpetrators of this are overwhelmingly peer athletes. Further, more than half of female athletes stop playing sports at the age of seventeen due to sexual violence and the lack of safe spaces. It is apparent that many experience this within sport as a child or teenager, and this transcends into sport at university. The literature on sexual violence in a university context has more often reported the risk posed by athletes as perpetrators (Bonar et al, 2020), than the risk of sexual violence towards them. When in fact, both can occur and is likely in student-led sporting clubs whereby a power imbalance and a lack of capable guardians/adult supervision can influence an individual’s actions. The social environment and night-club culture further encourages sexually violent behaviours. For example, abusive team cohesion events intended to ‘initiate’ freshers are situations where higher levels of sexual violence are reported.

As a Students Union, we believe that the students can and want to improve their community for the better; therefore, we need to facilitate the prevention of sexual violence and abuse across the board. Within sports, we do this through many different means that are both institution and student led. One example is our Beyond Equality workshops (Beyond Equality) we have provided to certain sport groups. Beyond Equality is a company that works to build more equitable and inclusive campus cultures through the lens of gender, they work hard to create safer and braver spaces for the conversations that student communities may find hard to step into, and even harder to navigate. They delivered something called a ‘Team Talk’. This was an interactive conversational workshop for teammates and peers to explore conversations around sexual harassment, healthy relationships, consent and mental well-being, all to impact campus culture. In total, 10 workshops were delivered, including workshops in student leadership. Statistics found that 93% of participants said the workshop will help their group create a more positive culture. These workshops will be recurring each year, allowing for new cohorts to take part and hopefully improve the culture within sport clubs as new students join the university.

What’s great to say is that our own students and clubs have taken a stance in educating individuals on consent and sexual assault. The Lacrosse club in the 2022/23 academic year delivered an educational workshop to their club outlining how to be an active bystander, what is consent and how to stay safe on a night out. The piece was so influential, the club further delivered it to other clubs, and were acknowledged at our Blues Awards for their contribution to the movement.  The Lacrosse team went on to work with NeverOk’s training officer.

As an SU, we are working hard with NeverOk to produce material to educate students and provide opportunities for workshops for students. The reinforcement of the movement towards the members of sport is what is going to create a culture that transcends across the years of incoming students. In combination with the University, we have a zero-tolerance policy towards sexual harassment and violence and encourage individuals to report and access support.

If you have been affected by anything written in this article, please be aware of our University and SU support. The University website has a support and report tool, and the SU has advice and support outside of the University that can advise you on the next steps to take. The Bridge is a local support service that provides free and confidential advice 24 hours, seven days a week. There is also a charity called Safeline that is a specialist charity for sexual abuse and rape.

Abbie Watkin, SU Sport Officer.