Consent on campus - building on the #EmilyTest

Written by Tom Freeman on 25 April 2018 in Feature

Event report: attempts to tackle sexual abuse and harassment will require all partners to challenge behaviours and commit to gender equality

Woman upset - stock images

The issue of gender-based violence at university has risen in prominence and more institutions are recognising it in the wake of emerging research and high profile cases such as that of Emily Drouet in Aberdeen.

Emily’s mother Fiona Drouet told a recent Holyrood event sending a child to university at 17 is a “daunting prospect” for a parent anyway, but when the confident Emily met charming dorm-mate Angus Milligan, she had felt even more uncomfortable.

Emily had told her mother: “I’ll have you know mum, he held me by the face and told me I was the most stunningly beautiful girl he’s ever seen.”

Drouet told her daughter to recognise his actions more than his words.

“Why I said that I don’t know. Maybe it was subconscious feeling I had.”

It then emerged he had been sleeping with other girls, and the relationship was reconvened on his terms.

He hounded Emily to sleep with his friends, sent her abusive messages then attacked her so viciously she feared for her life. She went to the halls of residence staff for assistance.

“They saw her face was red, swollen and injured. They asked if he had assaulted her and Emily replied no, I don’t want to get him into trouble. The report was signed off as ‘no follow up required’. Emily went back to her room alone.”

She handed in her public law essay two days after fearing for her life, but would not live to see her results.

At 1.30am police told Fiona Drouet her daughter was dead. She had taken her own life.

Emily’s story has become a campaign on campuses across Scotland which reveal the private text messages Emily sent describing her relationship.

“It’s my fault”, “I made him so angry” and “I deserve it”, she had said.

It reveals the insidious nature of gender-based violence, how it begins with language and can end with the loss of life.

A toolkit has been prepared for institutions called the #emilytest, which asks if procedures and guidelines relate to real world examples such as Emily’s story.

The Scottish Government, Drouet said, “understands the gaps and wants to address them”, but cultural shift is a difficult task.

Unlike other countries, Scotland is “proud” to approach the issue from a gender equality point of view, as opposed to limiting it strictly to only the criminal justice system, according to the project lead of the Equally Safe in Higher Education work group, Anni Donaldson from the University of Strathclyde.

“The feminist approach is very well evidence based,” she said.

The toolkit for universities reveals a holistic approach with layers of prevention.

“The common factor through it all is about power" she said, "and the threat of physical and sexual violence”.

The pattern, which starts with social norms such as sexist language, objectification and humour but can escalate to be life threatening, is a “tacit consent” that society allows, according to Donaldson.

“What it’s doing, if it’s not standing up and saying no to it, is consenting to it.”

A partnership approach includes Universities Scotland, the College Development Network, the Scottish Funding Council, NUS, Police Scotland and others.

It has been pursued with “momentum, passion and commitment”, said the Scottish Government’s Gareth Allen, who added it has been “the most important work I've done as a civil servant”.

But when some head teachers are reluctant to take workshops on consent from Rape Crisis Scotland into their schools, and when the term domestic abuse is not one recognised by many of those who experience it, especially young people, there is clearly much work to be done.

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