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New social media materials have been produced to help universities and colleges across Scotland support staff and students who might be experiencing gender-based violence (GBV) and abuse while social distancing measures are in place due to Covid-19.

Social distancing and self-isolation measures can be particularly challenging for those experiencing GBV. The website and social media materials seek to highlight the specialist support services available to victims, but also to perpetrators in order to put the responsibility onto them to address their behaviour.

The production of the materials was led by education charity Advance HE in partnership with the charity #EmilyTest, CDN and Universities Scotland. The project was funded by the Scottish Funding Council (SFC). This initiative builds on the partnership approach to tackling gender based violence built in Scotland’s colleges and universities over recent years.

In addition the website has been updated to reinforce the message that there is help available.

Whilst colleges and universities made a rapid transition away from face to face learning in March in the interests of public health, support services for students have remained open throughout the pandemic with institutions adapting their means of delivery. Any student or member of staff in need of support can contact their institution or reach out for specialist services.

SFC’s Dr Donna MacKinnon, Director of Access, Learning and Outcomes said:

“Lockdown measures have made it much harder when home is not a safe place. Colleges and universities have a responsibility to help protect their students and staff from harassment and abuse and that duty of care is made more important in these difficult circumstances.

“I’m confident these social media materials and the refreshed website will help our colleges and universities to reach out to students and staff and encourage them to seek help.”

Advance HE’s Dr Nel Whiting, said:

“Lockdown does not cause gender based violence but it increases the risks faced by victims and this means these new resources are of vital importance. Everyone should feel safe in their homes, and hopefully this initiative will mean some victims will become more aware of the support that is available to them. We also believe that perpetrators of gender-based violence must take responsibility for their behaviour and seek to address it.

“Advance HE condemns all forms of abuse and violence and we are committed to supporting all students and staff in the tertiary education sector who suffer from abuse.”

Founder and CEO of EmilyTest, Fiona Drouet said:

“EmilyTest are delighted to work on this important piece of work with our valued partners.  Tackling Gender Based Violence (GBV) in Colleges and Universities is of paramount importance and we must not become complacent during lockdown.  Domestic violence, intimate partner violence, cyberbullying/stalking and revenge pornography are all prevalent in this environment.”

At the start of April, EmilyTest released a letter of recommendations to the education sector, highlighting areas of concern and good practice.

“We hope our letter, combined with these new resources, will ensure staff and students reach the support they need. This is a fast-moving and busy time for violence against women services, but we hope these assets will be a timely reminder that help and support are still there and just one phone call, text or click away.”

NUS Scotland President, Liam McCabe said:

“All students deserve to be able to live and study in a safe and secure environment and this has never been more important than during the current pandemic. It is vital that students at risk of gender-based violence during social-distancing and after, are aware that there is support available to them.

“We welcome this important resource and will continue to work with the wider sector to ensure that students know where and how to access the support and guidance they may need.”

Andrea Nolan, Convener of Universities Scotland and Principal, Edinburgh Napier University:

“For our students the message is clear: our student support services are equipped to help and support you regardless of your circumstances. The restrictions caused by COVID-19 have been very difficult for many people, but especially for those who are sharing space with others who can do them physical and mental harm. The HE sector in Scotland is dedicated to build on our work to prevent gender based violence and will work with partners to ensure that students know they can receive the help, advice and support they need.”