Sexual violence: response and prevention | University of Oxford
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Sexual violence: response and prevention

The University of Oxford is committed to addressing the issue of sexual violence and enforcing a zero tolerance approach. Sexual violence is any unwanted sexual act (including rape and sexual assault). If you have experienced sexual violence there is help available to you from across the collegiate University.

If you have experienced sexual violence recently or in the past, choosing whether or not to report is a personal decision and it is important that you are comfortable with the next steps you take. As everyone’s priorities will differ, here are some options to consider. 

Your safety

If you are in immediate danger, call the police on 999.

You can also call Oxford University Security Services (OUSS) (24 hours - 01865 289999).  If you would like to discuss your ongoing safety or would like advice on reporting to the police, the Crime Reduction Advisor in OUSS can also help (during working hours).

Retain and preserve evidence

In the event of a recent assault, it is recommended that you do not:

  • use the lavatory or discard underwear or sanitary products;
  • wash, shower, bathe or shave;
  • wash your hands;
  • remove, wash, discard or destroy clothing worn or bedding and towels used at the time of the incident or subsequent to it;
  • drink or eat anything, including non-essential medication;
  • clean your teeth;
  • smoke; or
  • disturb the scene or allow other people or animals to enter area where the incident took place, where possible.

Where possible you should preserve non-physical evidence, such as relevant texts, social media messages and emails.

If you attend a Sexual Assault Referral Centre (SARC) or police station, it is important to take any underwear or clothing worn at the time of the incident in a plastic bag, if not being worn for the journey. The place of the incident should be made secure if possible. 

Reporting to the police

Emergency call 999

Non-emergency call 101

What happens next will vary, depending on when the sexual violence occurred, but may include: 

  • an officer attending and taking an initial account;
  • an Early Evidence kit (urine sample and mouth swab) being (self) administered; and
  • possibly being taken to a SARC for a forensic medical examination.

Later on, the police investigation will begin and you will give a full statement (which is sometimes video-recorded).

You may also be assigned a Specially Trained Officer (STO). The STO will facilitate your care from initial report, through medical examination, interview and subsequent investigation. They will then identify and engage the most appropriate methods of support.

Sexual Assault Referral Centre (SARC)

SARCs have specially-trained professionals who can give medical help and advice. They will collect and store forensic results until you are ready to make a decision on whether to report to the police or not. They will also support you through the immediate trauma. You should always contact the SARC before visiting a centre; whilst they operate a 24-hour service they do need to ensure the relevant staff are available. In the event of an historic incident it is advisable to telephone the SARC first to establish whether they are likely to be able to gather any medical evidence.

Many of the college porters’ lodges have a discretionary fund to pay taxi fares to and from the SARC. If possible, take someone with you so you are not alone. The nearest SARCs are: 

Solace Centre 

Police House, Queens Avenue, Bicester, OX26 2NT

0300 130 3036

Solace CentreNHS Upton Hospital, Albert Street, Slough, SL1 2BJ0300 130 3036

Medical attention

You may not want to go to a SARC or the police, but may still need medical attention. You can seek advice from your college doctor or nurse, local GP, A&E or the GUM Clinic.

Note: The following medical practitioners cannot collect forensic evidence. 

Accident and Emergency (A&E)John Radcliffe Hospital, Headley Way, Headington, Oxford, OX3 9DU999 for an ambulance

Genito-Urinary Medicine (GUM) Clinic

GUM clinics can provide morning-after pills, tests for sexually transmitted infections and anti-retroviral medication. Check the website for opening times; this is not a 24-hour service.

Churchill Hospital, Old Road, Oxford, OX3 7LE01865 231231
College doctor or nurse  

If you have experienced sexual violence recently or in the past, there are a number of people you can talk to whose aim is to make you feel safe and supported.

Oxford has two local agencies with trained Independent Sexual Violence Advisors (ISVAs):

  • Refuge (0800 221 8186). This is a service for men and women, 16 or over. Highly-trained specialist staff will work with you to create a tailor-made support plan to suit your needs. They can support you through each stage of the police and criminal justice procedure, and can also provide more information on what is involved before you decide to report. 
  • Oxfordshire Sexual Abuse and Rape Crisis Centre Advocate (01865 725311). This is a service for women, 18 or over. Highly-trained specialist staff will work with you to create a tailor-made support plan to suit your needs. They will provide you with emotional and practical support through each stage of the police and criminal justice procedure, and can also provide more information on what is involved before you decide to report.

Other external agencies

  • Oxfordshire Sexual Abuse and Rape Crisis Centre (01865 726 295/0800 783 6294).  A collective of women committed to supporting survivors of sexual abuse, rape, domestic abuse, and harassment. They offer a free and confidential service to women and girls who are dealing with the effects of sexual violence.
  • Survivors UK (02035983898). A free and confidential telephone helpline for men and boys who are dealing with the effects of sexual violence.
  • Galop (0300 999 5428). An LGBT anti-violence and abuse charity, providing advice and support to people who have experienced sexual violence, domestic abuse, biphobia, homophobia or transphobia.
  • Karma Nirvana (0800 5999247). Supporting victims of honour crimes and forced marriages.
  • The Kiran Project (020 8558 1986). For Asian women fleeing domestic violence and abuse.          
  • Freedom Charity - (0845 607 0133) 24/7 helpline staffed by trained professionals to help victims of forced marriage and their friends who are seeking help, support and advice.
  • National Association for People Abused in Childhood
  • Help for Adult Victims of Child Abuse

Internal support and advice 

  • Specially trained Harassment Advisors: male and female advisors who have been trained by the Oxford Sexual Abuse and Rape Crisis Centre and can talk through the options with you. 
  • Student Union's Student Advice Service: offers advice, information and advocacy. All their advisors have expertise in sexual abuse and harassment. 
  • Nightline (01865 270270):  a completely independent listening, support and information service run for and by students of the University of Oxford and Oxford Brookes.

After an experience of sexual violence, you might be concerned about a range of practical matters such as the impact on your academic work, changing accommodation, and avoiding contact with the other party.  It is important to tell someone who can help:

The Director can offer advice to students in cases when a criminal offence may have been committed.

Sexual assault and sexual violence abroad

If the incident happened in another country and you are still there, you can contact the local British Consulate or Embassy for assistance, including medical and legal help. The Foreign & Commonwealth Office website includes additional information. Visit the Rape Crisis Network Europe website for information about specialist support services in other European countries.

The University Counselling Service provides professional counselling and psychological support to students who have experienced sexual violence. 

All members of staff have completed substantial professional training which equip them to work with trauma, including sexual violence, and several have additional specialist training in this area. Staff have taken part in training workshops offered by Oxford Sexual Abuse and Rape Crisis Centre (OSARCC), and the Counselling Service subscribes to the core values of OSARCC, including: believing what victims tell us; making clear that rape is never the fault of the survivor; and offering a response that is non-judgmental, non-directive and empowering.

In the aftermath of assault, counselling may help students to:

  • think about how to care for themselves;
  • re-establish a sense of safety and personal agency;
  • communicate their experience to others; and
  • elicit emotional and practical support and manage any impact on their academic work.

Often students choose to access counselling at a later stage when the personal impact of the experience is clearer and they are readier to face the challenge inherent in the counselling process. Research suggests that the post-traumatic symptoms of 1/3 to 2/3 of victims of sexual violence resolve spontaneously, but for those whose symptoms do not resolve the Counselling Service offers a limited provision of a specialist therapy called Eye Movement Desensitisation Reprocessing (EMDR) endorsed under the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) guidelines as a highly effectively treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). 

The University Counselling Service has compiled a list of self-help resources on surviving traumatic events that may be helpful when thinking about any challenges that you may be facing and what you can do to address these.

Student testimonials

If you are worried that counselling might not be helpful or that you might be blamed or disbelieved, these recent testimonials from students who have used the Counselling Service following sexual assault may provide reassurance. 

"I didn't want to burden anyone else with my problems"

"I contacted the Counselling Service early last year, after 9 months of trying to deal with and forget about being raped the summer before. I've always been strong-headed, and when problems in the past have bothered me I've always been able to deal with them myself and be open with friends and family about what was bothering me. I'm not a particularly secretive person, and this is the one big secret I've ever really kept. It would haunt me every night for months but I thought I could deal with it myself, not wanting to burden anyone else with my problems.

It wasn't until I broke down in tears in front of my two closest friends that I realised I couldn't just keep this to myself and that it was wearing away at me every time I tried to suppress the memories of that night. I was terrified to sit down and talk about my problems to a complete stranger but when I went to counselling it turned out that talking to someone I didn't know made it easier, almost like talking to a diary. It was of course hard to revisit the memories, especially in the sessions of EMDR that I decided to attend, but by this point I would have tried anything to make the nightmares stop. I'm not going to lie and say it was easy, because I dreaded going every week knowing I would have to revisit that night and every little detail of it, but after a few weeks of it the nightmares had subsided, and I could talk and think about what happened as just a memory rather than as part of me.

Counselling and EMDR aren't some miracle cure that will make it all better, but for me it meant I was actually forced to think about what had happened to me and realise I'm so much more than what happened to me that night. There's no shame/stigma at all attached to talking to someone about what's happened to you, and really the first step is just having someone there to listen to you." 

"I was reassured it was never too late to get help"

"It took me a while to go and see the counselling services after my sexual assault, and the longer I left it the more I worried that it may not be as effective because I had let my symptoms of shock manifest themselves. However, the Counselling Service were incredibly helpful, and reassured me that it was never too late to get help. I found it incredibly valuable to take an hour every week to be able to take stock of how I was, because it can often be so busy at Oxford that you don't take the necessary time out to think about how you are doing - and I had consequently been pretending to myself that I was more okay than I was for a while. Having the same counsellor every week meant that I felt I had somebody in Oxford who could recognise how I was feeling, and talk through it with me, which made me feel a lot less alone.

I also underwent some sessions of EMDR, which directly targeted the trauma I was experiencing and helped to reduce my flashbacks and anxieties significantly, as well as having a notable positive effect on my sleep. I had underestimated how much I needed counselling before, and doing so helped me make enough progress last term that I was able to successfully sit my exams, which I previously had thought would not be possible."

"I was scared that someone would tell me it was my fault"

"I was hesitant to come to counselling. One of the main reasons was feeling that people wouldn't believe me, or would think I was being over-dramatic or just completely dismiss it. I had had a bad experience at the doctors, the first professional I spoke to about what had happened who essentially dismissed it as a sad fact of university life, and it completely put me off speaking to anyone else about it. I was also scared that someone would tell me it was my fault, or say I was overreacting and that I shouldn't be reacting as much as I have. I was afraid that telling people would mean they would force me to go to the police about what happened, and as we have discussed before that thought was terrifying for me as I thought (and still think) that it would provoke him to come after me again and so put me in an even more vulnerable position. I was scared that if I told people they would make me leave university, and that I would be seen as a 'problem child'; and not be as respected by my tutors. I was worried that it would reinforce the trauma, by going over it and make it harder for me to overcome. For a long time I hoped that if I just stayed quiet I could just pretend it didn't ever happen and eventually forget about it, but this was never going to work, and it got worse until I realised I needed help.  

I thought for a long time before I came to your counselling service, although strictly speaking I went to my college first. If they hadn't convinced me, I feel I probably wouldn't have come, for fear of wasting your time, or taking up a slot that someone else might need more. There are so many mental health problems in Oxford, and so many people needing help that sometimes it’s hard to realise you're just as entitled as anybody else to ask for help.

I found counselling extremely helpful. It didn't solve everything, and looking back I think what I needed most was time to process what happened and grieve, but this is impossible whilst still participating in studies in Oxford. It held me together, and that's all I could have ever asked for. I needed those sessions once a week to keep me going throughout the year and to let myself have a period of time when I could ask for advice, and have someone know what was going on, as I didn't (and still haven't) told many people what happened. All the worries I had before coming didn't come to fruition; there was no judgement, and no pushing me further than I was willing to divulge. I didn't even have to tell you his name, which let me feel a slight bit of power, and solved the insecurities I had that people were going to take action about it behind my back and put me (unwittingly) in a more vulnerable position. Everything was allowed to be at my own pace, and it gave me a certain amount of control over my recovery.

I would urge anyone who has also been a victim to go to the Counselling Service. If you want to go to the police about the incident then they are some of the best people to support you through that, and if you don't want to then they will respect that and support you anyway. You deserve the chance to get better, use all the help offered to you. The sooner you go, the more they can help you and the shorter the period of time you need to suffer. It got me through my hardest year, and I am incredibly grateful for it." 

"My counsellor helped me deal with practical things"

"Normally I think of myself as super-confident and strong, and I know other people see me that way, but I was totally terrified about the whole idea of counselling. I didn't want to talk about what happened and the idea of anyone looking at me and knowing about it just felt horrible. Even thinking about it, I just felt this crushing sense of shame.  But my counsellor was calm, kind and not at all judgmental. And she helped in lots of ways. To begin with, she helped me to deal with practical things like working out what I needed to do to feel safe in college, sorting out the academic mess I was in, helping me to stay connected to people I care about and just generally feel back on solid ground. She got me to be much more compassionate and understanding towards myself and showed me some grounding techniques I could use when I felt panicked and out of control. Later we explored how I had been affected by what happened to me, thinking about things like my confidence, my belief in myself, and my feelings about men and sex. Later, she referred me for sessions of EMDR to help me get over some post-traumatic symptoms, like nightmares and flashbacks and getting triggered by really small things that happen. I feel so grateful to have had this help. I hope writing this encourages others to give counselling a chance."

The University of Oxford is a Champion for the UN Campaign HeforShe, and has pledged to extend its work in creating a safe environment, beyond revising its Harassment Policy and Procedure. A consultation with staff and students is currently taking place on a Sexual Violence strategy which will be made available on these web pages.

Student-led training and campaigns

Students have developed a number of initiatives around prevention of sexual violence:   

  • Oxford SU's It Happens Here: a campaign to raise awareness of sexual abuse and violence, in Oxford.
  • Sexual consent discussions: student-led facilitated conversations. They look at statistics, at scenarios, and explore what consent is, how to give it and how to accept it or its retraction. The conversations are casual, but thoughtful. The intention is to encourage you to think about healthy practices of consent.
  • Good Lad Workshop: an Oxford-based effort to empower men to deal with complex gender situations and become agents of positive change within their social circles. They run workshops throughout term time for groups of men within the University, such as sports teams, drinking societies, clubs and JCR/MCR members.

First responder training

Guidance is available to support those first responders amongst to support staff and students who may or have received a disclosure of sexual violence. This is complemented by face to face training for staff members provided by the Counselling Service and Oxford City Council’s Domestic and Sexual Abuse Coordinator.

Sexual Violence: the spectrum of support for survivors (podcast)

Listen to a podcast of an event which brought together local expertise (including the Police, SARC, ISVA’s and the Counselling Service) to explore how they can support students who have experienced sexual violence.

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