Oxford University Student Union (OUSU) and university events promoter, Varsity Events, have outlined a landmark zero tolerance policy for sexual harassment and assault, and physical harassment of students on club nights.
The policy, named Zero Tolerance, is the first policy on fair treatment of students that the student body has agreed with Varsity Events.
The aim of the policy is to ensure that students are respected on nights out irrespective of whether it is on the dance floor, at the bar or in the queue. Students are encouraged to speak out to club staff if and when they feel violated. Club staff will be offered training and briefed by the Student Union and posters publicising the Zero Tolerance policy will be displayed in club entrances and toilets.
Yuan Yang, Vice President (Women) of OUSU, who has been a driving force behind the project, said: “We intend to train bar staff, staff managers and bouncers, basically whoever is on the floor, to recognise signs of assault and situations where fights may break out. This in itself would mean that they are better able to handle students who are complaining and investigate the matter. It also makes sure the investigate firmly without being intimidating.”
If an incident of sexual assault has been established, offending students will be thrown out of the club; their names will be recorded and shared with other clubs. This will prevent a situation whereby offenders go from club to club in one night committing the same offence, just at a different place. Clubs will also be encouraged to keep a record of offences and ejections, and OUSU will operate an appeals procedure for those who feel they have been poorly handled.
Yuan also commented on the motivation behind the whole project. “The whole impetus driving this is an attitude change on the part of bouncers on how they see Oxford students and also on students as to what they think is acceptable at a club. It seems that being felt up and grabbed at the club is something that we assume will happen and we have to deal with as part and parcel of a night out. It’s really not a rite of passage and something we should never put up with.”
“Agreeing a clear policy with clubs and making it apparent to students what the policy is will not only make students more safe in clubs but also will send out the signal that we expect a club to be safe place – a place where students will feel that they are not disrespected.”
A female student at Somerville, who declined to be named, expressed her approval of the scheme. She said: “The last time I was at a club, two random people came up to me, started grinding me and even carried me without my consent. I felt pretty violated to be honest and thankfully my friends noticed that I was quite uncomfortable and helped me out of this very sticky situation. It’s good that this scheme will be enacted as now I have an official avenue of redress where I can be assured that my complaint will be acted upon.”
A second year female student at Keble added: “I personally find it quite difficult to speak out whenever I have been groped at the club. I’m sure people don’t do it intentionally – people are drunk and hands fly all over the place. Likewise when I’m at the club there is a certain degree of physical contact that should be expected. However, we all have a certain threshold and to be felt up by an anonymous stranger is definitely unacceptable and I’m pretty glad that OUSU recognises this and has acted on this.”
Yuan concluded: “You go out to have a good time – not to get groped. As a student body, we shouldn’t have to put up with sexual harassment and assault being common at club nights. This is why we are working with Varsity Events to make Zero Tolerance policy visible and well implemented.”
The Zero Tolerance policy has been enacted successfully by Student Unions across the country, including those at Sheffield, Cardiff and Goldsmiths College.