Recent figures with regards to sexual assault and violence experienced within a university have soared, with 62% of all students and recent graduates reporting experience of sexual violence, in a sample of 4,491 across 153 institutions in the UK (Revolt, 2018). What is particularly striking is the disparity between men and women, with 70% of female participants surveyed reporting this experience, in contrast to only 26% of male participants (Revolt, 2018). The Guardian had also reported that 8% female university students have been raped, which is twice as much as the national statistic estimate (ONS, 2013; Reynolds, 2018). Not only are these figures disturbingly high, but additionally, 56% of students believed that their experience wasn’t serious enough to be reported (Reynolds, 2018). Additionally, between February 2019 and January 2020 in Warwickshire county, the type of crime with the highest case count is ‘violence and sexual offences’ which made up 27.88% of crimes overall.
Not only are there issues around the occurrence of sexual violence, there also seems to be a lack of reporting incidents by unviersity students. A shocking 6% of students that have experienced sexual violence have actually reported it to the university, with only 2% feeling that they were able to do so (Revolt, 2018). This amplifies the importance of reform on the perceptions and understanding sexual assault and violence, and how consent comes into play. University is known for the extreme use of alcohol and other drugs being an integral part of the experience, with research revealing that almost half of the students surveyed were identified as ‘hazardous drinkers’ (Alcohol and Alcoholism, 2011; Townsend, 2018). This is problematic as existing findings have also suggested that alcohol is frequently involved in sexual assault within the university setting (Cantor et al, 2015; Camp et al, 2018).
Considering how common sexual assault and violence is on a national scale, there is not enough being done to combat the issue within the university setting. An article looking into the current initiatives in place with regards to consent, found that 80% of students who had responded to a survey had never attended a consent class. Of the 20% that have attended one, only 55% of participants found it useful (Burns, 2018). This is indicative of the inadequacy of the existing initiatives put in place, which seems to be the case at the University of Warwick as well. For example, George Lawlor’s protest against the ‘I Heart Consent’ workshops at Warwick in 2015 demonstrates how this may not have been received well in the past. However, the controversy from his claim that ‘This Is Not What a Rapist Looks Like’ sparked a global debate around what exactly a perpetrator is supposed to look like. This is particularly interesting as previous research has found that around 90% of rapes are committed by someone known to the victim (ONS, 2013). What can be understood from this incident is that there is still a lot to be done when attempting to change attitudes towards consent and sexual assault, and the approach that needs to be taken should be that of a gradual nature; beginning with a compulsory consent class might have been a huge jump for some individuals. It is important that we find a reasonable starting point in order to have a more effective outcome when looking for long-term, more permanent behaviour change.
Unfortunately, the Warwick rape chat scandal, which surfaced in 2018, is yet another massive indicator of the need for a more drastic intervention to combat such attitudes. The incident had left members of the student body feeling unsafe, and ashamed of the association with these individuals, with the hashtag #ShameOnYouWarwick trending globally.
Not only did this receive a backlash of a great magnitude, but it also sparks the debate of the extent to which universities are safeguarding both students and staff, especially as they have a duty of care to ensure people do not feel unsafe on campus.
Universities UK (UUK)’s report in 2019 revealed that some universities in the United Kingdom have introduced ‘pre-arrival online courses’ which are a requirement in order to register at the given institution, and failing to do so can make their applications void (UUK, 2019; Swerling, 2019). Having been an individual who has completed a compulsory consent class as a part of an exchange program at Monash University Australia, just the mere exposure to this information might make a difference in the understanding of consent in both the recipient, and the individual giving the consent. Therefore, this project’s initiative is to petition for the introduction of a better campaign against sexual violence on campus, and to reform the existing #WeGetConsent campaign currently run by Warwick SU.
From the research conducted on the issues surrounding sexual violence within the university setting, and the current initiatives at other institutions in the UK, our target audience will be all members of the Warwick population, including staff and students. According to Bonomi (2019), sexual violence prevention campaigns which are aimed entirely at students are not sufficient tackle the issue, as a full range of occupants of the university population is neglected - including staff, faculty, administrators and more. These individuals play a role in shaping the campus climate, and contribute to interactions and conversation at university. The main population that will be interacted with is the student population, as we have the most accessibility and responsiveness from this group. Moreover, the student body outnumbers the staff and faculty population at Warwick, and issues surrounding sexual violence and harrassment is far more frequent within the student population. The methods used to reach this target population is through the use of posters, social media, and liaison with the Student Union.
There is an existing campaign for sexual consent, which has been thoroughly assessed for the purpose of this project. There are a few initiatives in place including:
- Bystander Intervention in the Curriculum
- Let’s Talk - an anonymous question and answer campaign hosted on Facebook
- #AskForAngela - a safeguarding campaign to provide a discrete method of asking for assistance if you feel uncomfortable or unsafe in SU venues
- Supporting survivors - resources available for those who have experienced incidents of sexual violence, and those who are supporting them
- Consent Matters module - an interactive and evidence-based module available to take on Moodle at your discretion
- Sexual Abuse and Sexual Violence Awareness week
- #WeGetConsent ambassadors, and wristbands
After visiting the SUHQ to discuss the existing campaign, we concluded that a lot of these initiatives were not currently active, with a particular emphasis on the interactive module – upon clicking the link, we found it to be a dead-end. Additionally, after a number of emails to SU representatives, we did not receive a single response, so we decided to take matters further.
Here are some examples of our correspondence with SU members:
After no response and addition searching we discovered that there was a Consent Matters module which had to be searched up on Moodle to find. This was still not accessible through the #WeGetConsent webpage which is meant to provide information and access about the campaign.
As you can see from the screenshot below, the link for the ‘Consent Matters’ module advertised on the #WeGetConsent campaign page leads to a dead end, which emphasises the issue around how seriously the #WeGetConsent campaign is being taken by Warwick University.
Therefore, we identified this as the main subject of the current project, with the end-goal being to make this module active, and campaign towards making it compulsory for all incoming students and staff at Warwick University.
Our intervention was made up of two components:
1. Create a petition to rally support for our call for the university to introduce this compulsory consent module.
The starting point for our petition was to decide whether to collect signatures in-person, or via an online platform. Our decision was to use a combination of in-person and online recruitment, but host the petition on change.org, in order to make it more easily distributed. The initial method through which we began recruiting supporters was through social media; the platforms used included Instagram, Whatsapp and Facebook. To support the petition, we created a poster to put around campus, and advertise to students online. Previous evidence suggests that signing an electronic petition seems to be a gateway to future participation, as explained by the ‘foot-in-the-door’ technique (Cruickshank, Edelmann & Smith, 2010; Nall et al, 2018).
Elaboration Likelihood Model
Aspects of the Elaboration-Likelihood Model (ELM) were employed when devising this campaign, in order to gain maximum engagement from the Warwick population. Although these are not the main persuasion techniques used throughout this project, they played somewhat of a role in determining our approach. The reason why we have decided to consider the ELM is because previous research supports the use of the framework in order to alter attitudes towards rape (Gidycz et al, 2001).
Peripheral route of persuasion
Aligning with the Elaboration-Likelihood Model’s peripheral route of persuasion, we have chosen to appeal to people by incorporating vibrant colors, bold font, and minimal text. As this poster is most likely going to be read quickly, or in passing, it seems that at a low level of processing, not people don’t seem to process the message with much effort (Oh & Jasper, 2006).
Along with the vibrance of the poster, we chose to have a statistic that will appeal to all individuals, not just a particular group. By reporting the incidence rate in all students and graduates, we could demonstrate how this is an issue that seems to be widespread throughout the entire student population, reinforcing the importance of this cause.
Here are some examples of the posts we made:
We printed off a number of flyers and pinned them around the university. We focused on areas with high traffic to ensure maximum exposure: such as around the library and accomodations. We stuck the posters around Social Sciences and Science, Engineering and Medicine buildings, as these are the two highest undergraduate faculty populations at 43.01% and 44.49% respectively.
2. Create a video on what consent is, and what it is not, to be hosted on YouTube to be shared via social media.
Our initial idea was to have this short video displayed on the Big Screen at the piazza on campus, however, with delayed response times and the outbreak of COVID-19, this doesn’t seem likely to occur anymore. We will, however, still attempt to gain as much exposure as we can for the video, and include it alongside the posts we have made for the change.org petition that will remain live for the foreseeable future. The Big Screen let us know that we could show our video as long as it got cleared for adhering to regulations. We have sent the video to the Big Screen and are currently waiting on a response.
We kept the video short, with a lot of repetition to get our message across loud and clear. The use of the phrase ‘What’s It To You?’ was emphasised.
The video featured men and women explaining what consent is and is not with statements we prepared. We then featured some of the statistics around sexual violence at university and photographs of protests on campus following the rape chat incident. We concluded by urging students to support with this important issue by signing our petition and asking the SU to place more emphasis on the #WeGetConsent campaign by making the Moodle course compulsory for all students and staff. Watch the video down below or via this link: https://youtu.be/4BTvjd5jdOc.
1. Foot-in-the-door technique (FITD)
According to Freedman and Fraser (1966), who coined the FITD technique, it seems that individuals are more likely to comply with a larger request when it is preceded by a smaller request. By creating an online, easily accessible petition, we were able to engage people by emphasising how little effort was required to show support for our campaign to bring about change in the SU consent campaign. Our small request was taking 2 minutes to scan a QR code, and filling in a short form to show your support. Once they had done so, we then asked if individuals were either willing to repost the petition information, or to participate in a video on consent, with this being the larger request. There is an increasing body of evidence to suggest that signing a petition associates with successive participation (Nall et al, 2018).
2. Just Asking
According to Flynn and Lake (2008), people tend to underestimate others’ willingness to help. ‘Just asking’ can be the most effective behaviour change technique and we utilised this in our campaign. We approached students with our poster and asked if they would scan the QR code to sign our petition.
As you can see in these instances, we approached individuals in the library and asked if they were willing to quickly sign a petition, which they accessed by scanning the code from one of the group member’s laptop.
We have taken two aspects of the MINDSPACE paradigm, and our chosen features are:
The way in which we evaluate information depends a lot on the messenger of the information. There is much evidence showing that when we feel the messenger has characteristics that are similar to ours, we are more likely to act on the information provided (Dolan et al., 2010). The target audience for the campaign is students therefore the more similar the messengers are to the target audience, the better.
Acting on this, we thought the best people to feature in the video, explaining exactly what consent is and is not is students. We also featured both men and women in the video. This was to emphasise the point that sexual violence does not discriminate in terms of gender, sexuality or race.
Affect, or emotion, plays an integral role in behaviour change and decision making. Many social psychologists view affect as being synonymous with the ‘evaluative’ component of changing attitudes (Petty, Cacioppo, Sedikides, & Strathman, 1988). The topic of our campaign is already emotive and we featured photographs of Warwick students in protest to emphasise this. Cognitive appraisal theories state that affect is caused by a particular form of cognition, called appraisals (Dillard & Seo, 2013). As affect and evaluation are linked we kept our explanations of what consent is and is not definitive and clear, as well as featuring the shocking statistics on sexual violence to allow for easier evaluaton. This is the act of assessing something or someone. We ensured to include enough photographs and statistics to give our viewer enough information.
The final MINDSPACE technique we utilised was commitment. We used this in a number of ways in our campaign. For example, it has been found that the act of writing a commitment increases the likelihood of it being fulfilled (Dolan et al. 2010). Therefore on the above instagram poll we asked respondents if they thought consent was important and should be taught to all. Once they had already said yes we then asked them to sign our petition, before asking them to make further commitments to the cause as described under the foot-in-the-door technique. Commitment interlinks with principles of consistency. Therefore if they commit to being someone that cares about consent, they are more likely to sign the petition. This is linked with Cialdini’s technique of commitment and consistency which will be discussed later.
4. Mere Exposure Effect
The mere exposure effect maintains that the more we are exposed to something it becomes more familiar to us resulting in a preference. We used this firstly through the repetition of our campaign name in the hashtag #What’sItToYou? This was featured at the top of our campaign poster and in the video. We also created an Instagram page with the same name as part of our campaign.
The hashtag has a double meaning. We are asking people: what does consent mean to you? This also plays out in our video where students are providing definitions of consent. It can also be read in the defensive: what’s it to you!? We do this to empower those asking it.
5. Snowball effect
We employed the snowball effect by having other individuals share and repost our message on their social media accounts. Previous research into the use of online platforms to increase user participation in environmental communities found that the ‘snowball effect’ that individuals have in terms of persuading their peers to join them plays a crucial role in attracting more people, and drawing more public attention (Zhang et al, 2019). Therefore, we believed that an effective mechanism to gather more public attention was to have people from different social networks share the post, to reach a much wider community overall; this also included non-warwick students, to gain attention on a national scale.
6. Cialdini’s Principles
We used a number of Cialdini’s principles in our campaign. The first two are from Cialdini’s book Influence and the final from his new book, Pre-Suasion.
Commitment and Consistency
People want their behaviour to be congruent with their attitudes and beliefs. This fact has been found to be true in numerous studies, particularly within social psychology. 98% of the people that answered ‘Yes’ to whether they think consent is important went on to answer ‘Yes’ to whether they think consent should be taught to all. Many of them then went on to sign the petition. A pre-commitment leads to consistent behaviour and this was seen in our campaign. Many of those that signed the petition then went on to become ‘supporters’ of the campaign on change.org.
Respondents that volunteered to take part in our video had all signed the petition and most had shared it. Taking part in the video was the highest level of commitment that we asked from people and it is the role of consistency that resulted in this.
As aforementioned, we ensured familiarity through using Warwick students for our campaign video. This ensured that viewers knew that this campaign was for all of us, and is something that we as a community can change. We filmed the video on campus, using the background of a classroom. This was all in order to remind the viewer that this is a Wawick community issue, and we should all care about it. The more familiar the messenger, the more likely the viewer is going to be persuaded.
Cialdini maintains that there are two types of unity: acting together and being together (Cialdini, 2016). It is similar to his early principle of liking, but goes further in that it is about shared identities. This is something that university students have. Warwick being a campus university means we have a more tight-knit sense of community and belonging than other, non-campus universities. We placed a lot of emphasis on this fact and drew on the fact that we all have a shared identity.
Results and Future prospects for this project
After some time we got a response from the lead staff member of the #WeGetConsent campaign.
We have put forward ideas we have for the campaign and are excited to be working alongside the SU to ensure that the campaign is correctly prioritised and updated. The SU are investigating why the Moodle course is not available and we expect this to be revised as soon as the reason is found, meaning the campaign page will be more effective: a big goal for our campaign. The campaign is not complete, and this hopefully marks the beginning of a more widespread and inclusive campaign at Warwick.
This project has touched many individuals, as our attempt to use this opportunity to campaign for the safeguarding and wellbeing of students has been received very well. We hope that we can have a lasting impact on the current Consent campaign at Warwick, and get the ball rolling for future campaigners to make a huge shift towards normalising discussions around consent, and reducing the number of sexual violence cases at Warwick as a whole.
In the future, an interesting route that can be taken to gain more support and attention from members of the university could be to host interviews with students and staff. This can be broadcasted online, and shared via viral marketing, in order to encourage more dialogue around this topic. This could be hugely beneficial to individuals who don’t feel comfortable enough to seek help, as it will show others that they are not in this alone.
This project has special relevance to us, as we as women at the University of Warwick feel empowered enough to use our voices in a fight against sexual violence. We know numerous amounts of people who have been subjected to sexual violence and harrassment, so this campaign is for them, and everyone in our community. We’re grateful for the opportunity this project has given us to raise awareness on the importance of consent, and hope to have made a lasting impact.
By Ayesha Tabbal and Zineb Leghnider
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