Fight against sexist and sexual violence in higher education: many initiatives, few resources

The numbers are staggering. One student in twenty declares having been the victim of rape during her studies; one in ten, of sexual violence (according to thesurvey carried out by the Observatory studying sexual and gender-based violence in higher education, October 2020). Within higher education institutions, between internal investigations and startling revelations, awareness is inevitable.

“Three years ago, some directors were convinced that there was no sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV) in their establishment. Today, that is no longer the case. All welcome the freedom of speech. The problem is that you have to be able to take charge of this speech, and that is not yet acquired everywhere”, summarizes Gaëlle Berton, secretary general of the Observatory studying sexual and gender-based violence.

Sexist and sexual violence: between omerta and zero tolerance, the responsibility of higher education establishments at stake

On the other hand, the obligation for establishments in the public sector to set up or strengthen their listening and reporting unit is on its side acquired. This is one of the 21 measures of the national action plan against gender-based and sexual violence (VSS) unveiled in October 2021 by the Ministry of Higher Education, in order to encourage schools and universities to initiate a proactive policy to prevent and fight against this violence.

“The actions proposed are very numerous, even if they are not always very functional. This plan will have at least served as a trigger, particularly for establishments which had nothing“, remarks Philippe Liotard, president of the CPED (Permanent Equality Diversity Conference).

The proposed actions are very numerous, even if they are not always very functional. (P. Liotard, CPED).

On the menu in particular, training for staff (administrative, reception, laboratory, research structures) and students, diverse and varied awareness-raising actions (poster campaign, workshops, conference, evening monitoring, etc.), the creation of multi-campus listening and support networks, the development of good practice content, partnerships with specialized organizations, etc.

Globally satisfied with the VSS plan, the conferences of establishments are waiting for details

In addition to the form these actions may take, it is also their method of management that differs from one institution to another. So much so that the ministry, which nevertheless accompanies, advises and finances a large part of these projects for two years, sometimes has difficulty keeping up. “Between the universities that have had a reception and listening unit for victims for several years and the establishments that are just setting it up following the 2019 law, it is difficult to have a vision exhaustive list of all practices”, confirms Julie Guerreiro, project manager for equality and the fight against GBV at the Ministry of Higher Education and Research.

It actually depends on the needs of the establishment, and on that we have chosen not to impose anything. Isn’t the main thing above all that the devices work”, she asks? However, this is where the shoe pinches sometimes.

Report: Sciences po Strasbourg students made aware of consent

Lack of knowledge of the system, staff not very available and suspicious students, discrepancy between the report and the disciplinary procedure, lack of follow-up given to a case… as they are implemented, the limits of the systems for combating SGBV appear, here too, to vary greatly depending on the establishments.

The most widespread, however: the absence of visibility. “We know, fairly unanimously, that students are relatively unaware of the existence of these devices“, observes the ministerial representative.

An observation shared by the general secretary of the VSS Student Observatory: “Only on the website of certain establishments, it is difficult to find the information, whereas it should be accessed with a simple keyword. What’s the point of having a device if no one knows about it?”

Plan to combat sexist and sexual violence in higher education: focus on three collaborative projects

There are several possible solutions to this question. The ministry intends to act by launching soon a national communication campaign on consent, in partnership with the Sex and Consent association. For its part, the CPED is betting on the networking of its Equality project officers with various institutional bodies (human resources, university health services, heads of components) to think about the communication strategy at all levels.

We know, fairly unanimously, that students are relatively unaware of the existence of these devices. (J. Guerreiro, MESR)

“We must continue to work towards students, it’s important, because at the staff level, I find that the information passes relatively well, notes Philippe Liotard. Likewise, for training, if there is any has more and more, some of which are free via the Ministry of Higher Education, there is a challenge in also training all the students and the governance of the establishments. The more the latter have the knowledge, the more they will be receptive and ready to put the means into it.”

Because this is where the future and the effectiveness of these devices are at stake. If the ministerial national action plan, which foresees over four years (from 2021 to 2025) an overall envelope of 1.7 million distributed via an annual call for projects, makes it possible to bail out the coffers from time to time, these funds are not sufficient for the moment to ensure their sustainability.

And few establishments – grandes écoles or universities – manage to find specific resources. Result: the directions tinker with what they have and the goodwill. “At AgroParisTech, the listening and reporting unit is run by only one woman and still very part-time. Suffice to say that it is very far from being enough”, deplores Morgane Marcille, student of the school and co-responsible for Cassis (awareness and information unit on sexuality), made up of around thirty students. volunteers.

It is clear that people attached to these devices are very rarely 100% attached, confirms Philippe Liotard. I dream that we can hire full-time people. There should also be a statutory diversity VP who would be responsible for the system. Today, there are only about twenty in France.”

“Tea Consent” or how to train students to prevent sexual violence?

In the turmoil after the revelation of serious facts, the Ecole Polytechnique has, for its part, opted for “zero tolerance”. For this, she worked for many months, with a questionnaire for students in support. Results of the operation: the HDVS system (harassment, discrimination, sexual or gender-based violence), reorganized, counts five well-identified referents thanks to an increase in awareness-raising actions.

Added to this, among other things, an extension of training to association managers and the production of a prevention booklet presenting the roles of each and the useful contacts. “It took us a lot of work, but I think it was fruitful for the students. The management and the students were very involved and we really have the means; which allows us to be always on the move”, rejoices Marie Bresson, its diversity delegate.

Other good students: in Lyon and Saint-Etienne, a joint platform project bringing together the universities and schools of these sites is under consideration. Objective ? Direct reports more effectively to the cells of the establishments concerned. At the same time, several schools on the Saclay plateau, including CentraleSupélec, the Optical Institute, the ENS and AgroParisTech, have worked together on an inter-school charter to oversee festive events.

Little by little, the fight against sexist and sexual violence in higher education is being organized, but What about the evaluation of the projects implemented to date? “We are in the process of launching with the CPED a survey of our 90 members to take stock of these actions, the results and the means, in collaboration with the ministry. This will then allow us to have a better overall vision”, inform its president. Verdict: end of 2023.

Fight against sexist and sexual violence in higher education: many initiatives, few resources