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Abstract

Women’s safety from sexual violence whilst at university is a global issue and the UK is no exception. Whilst the authors of this paper acknowledge that sexual violence can occur across the gender spectrum, most sexual violence ‘victims’ are women and girls, and this study explores sexual violence experienced by female undergraduates. This paper explored sexual violence and university students with fifteen undergraduate participants who took part in a total of three qualitative focus groups at one post-92 UK University. Whilst the study focussed on the experiences of female students, we sought the perspectives of female and male students to investigate this. The first focus group in this study consisted of five female students, the second, five females and two males, the third, two females and one male. Each focus group lasted between two and three hours and was audio recorded and transcribed. Focus groups were semi-structured. Participants were purposively sampled. Data was analysed through thematic analysis. A theme to emerge within the data demonstrated women changing behaviours to ‘stay safe’. This paper categorises safety behaviours into two typologies. Typology one is ‘indirect safety work’ which includes aspects such as putting up with unwanted sexual touching, and appropriation of cultures such as lad culture to fit in. Typology two is ‘direct safety work’ such as including male ‘protectors’ in social situations in an attempt to stay safe. This paper explores agency in the safety work that women do day to day, alongside the ‘hidden labour’ this entails which can restrict female freedom. This paper further explores the power that can be ascribed to particular gendered and sexed bodies and the power imbalances that can result. Women can be compelled to seek protection from those who are predatory toward them. This can be impacted by and contribute toward ‘shattering’, which is a loss of a belief in the world as a safe space or women’s perception of their capacity to keep themself safe within it.

Note on the Author

"Dr Helen Bovill is Associate Professor and Associate Head of Department Research at UWE, Bristol, where she has worked since 2004 and convenes the Research Group, Bristol Inter-disciplinary Group for Education Research BRIDGE, which welcomes appropriate contributions to its Education Blog. Her research interests focus on gender equality, gender-based violence prevention, widening participation, and professional and learner identity where she has published on these topics. Dr Bovill has worked with students, academics, university professional services, and external agencies to develop university responses to abuse, harassment, and discrimination.; Professor Kieran McCartan (UWE, Bristol) has a track record of public, academic, and professional engagement on the causes of sexual offending and societal responses to people convicted of a sexual offence, their risk management, and reintegration incorporating past trauma and developmental criminology. Professor Richard Waller has worked at UWE, Bristol since 1995. His research interests focus on issues of social justice and education and identity, notably class and gender, and he has published widely on these topics. His work is largely on the UK’s post-compulsory education sector, and universities in particular, and tends to be qualitative in nature."

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