Dr Alan Berkowitz is a widely published scholar on the topic of sexual violence prevention and harassment prevention. He has served as an expert consultant for five different online sexual assault prevention courses, including Epigeum’s Consent Matters and Tackling Harassment courses. Information about Alan’s work is available at www.alanberkowitz.com.
Regulations often serve a positive purpose in both driving change and setting clear standards. This is relevant in relation to our efforts to address sexual harassment, sexual assault, and other unwanted behaviours within institutions. Therefore, the guidelines recently proposed by the Office for Students (OFS) represent a positive step, one which places pressure on institutions to develop comprehensive programs and further standards. Amongst other initiatives, these guidelines include the requirement that universities and colleges provide clear definitions of harassment and sexual misconduct and that they create a document which outlines the steps that they are taking to address the issue, including prevention, training, adjudication, and victim support. This is where online learning courses – like Epigeum’s Support and Wellbeing programmes – can prove useful.
Online education is one way in which institutions can respond to and implement these requirements. This can serve as an important component of a comprehensive prevention program and can be used by institutions of higher education to provide services that address these requirements and support university communities on and off campus. Given the extent of sexual harassment, sexual violence, and other unwanted behaviours, we can say that it is not only desirable but arguably the responsibility of educational institutions to provide such training.
Furthermore, it is desirable that these courses be based on research regarding what is effective within this field. Therefore, when evaluating online education opportunities, it is important to assess if the courses in question are developed by experts and are consistent with the current state of knowledge and science.
Research in question, Understanding UK Male Sexual Aggression and Online education, has documented multiple benefits of online education (Hales, 2022):
- It is scalable, accessible and can be offered to large numbers of individuals.
- There are significant efficiencies in terms of staff-resources and time commitment.
- Participation is anonymous which makes it easier for participants to answer questions about issues that could be perceived as sensitive.
- Data can be collected to assist institutions in developing programs to address important issues.
Epigeum’s Consent Matters and Tackling Harassment courses can help institutions implement the latest OFS guidelines. They can do this by teaching students about definitions, policies, how to support a victim and most importantly, how to step in as active bystanders to prevent unwanted events either of a sexual nature or concerning prejudicial behaviour and social justice issues. Best practice has established that effective courses include training in bystander intervention and definitions of consent, and that they provide information on the healthy norms of the majority of students. This could include commonly faced issues such as most students wanting to seek consent but may not know how to accomplish this; many would like to step in when they see a problem, and are eager to learn skills and bystander training which will help them do this. Online training is a way to provide guidance on such topics.
Epigeum’s support and wellbeing courses are developed by noted experts from campus professionals as well as students, and are designed to be consistent with science and best practice. They have been shown by research and evaluation to make a difference and have been evaluated positively by the institutions that use them.
As noted above, online programmes offer ease of accessibility to a broad range of participants, often via their personal electronic devices. Learning online also allows participants to engage with sensitive topics in a private setting on their own time. Additionally, interactive exercises and situational content in an Epigeum course encourages learners to reflect on their personal values and experiences. It is important to note that courses with more interactivity have been found to be more effective than courses that require passive participation.
Training of this nature extends beyond the provision of lectures and speakers and simple quizzes about facts, all which have been shown by research to be ineffective on their own in changing behaviour. Thus, while some university initiatives may vary, the more responsible and more likely course of action is at the most basic level to be in compliance with laws and regulations – including the proposed OFS guidelines – by delivering effective, accessible trainings that are founded on extensive research, theory and evaluation and that are part of a comprehensive integrated effort to address the problem.
As your institution develops a response to the proposed OFS guidelines, it is good to know that these courses – although not sufficient on their own – can be an important step in accomplishing this goal and a step in the right direction when utilised in tandem with other student wellbeing initiatives on and off campus, with the aim to foster empowered students and safer institutions.
Hales, S.T. (2022) Understanding Sexual Aggression in UK Male University Students: An Empirical Assessment of Risk Factors and Online Harm Prevention Programming. ResearchGate. Available at: https://www.researchgate.net/publication/372748036_Understanding_Sexual_Aggression_in_UK_Male_University_Students_An_Empirical_Assessment_of_Risk_Factors_and_Online_Harm_Prevention_Programming
Find out how your institution can incorporate the Epigeum support and wellbeing courses into prevention and response measures today by clicking the link below!