In an article for Pi Online, Gabriel Gavin used the Women’s Officer role as an example of a sabbatical position that could be cut. He instead proposed that the police should be more involved, and that a counsellor could do the work the Women’s Officer does.
We asked Annie Tidbury, current WO, to respond to these points.
Police – “What is needed is a closer collaboration between counselling services and the police”
Gabriel Gavin’s idea that we should jettison the Women’s Officer and instead work with the police is potentially very harmful. Someone who has experienced sexual assault had already had their control taken away from them; pushing students to report to the police only serves to further rob them of control. This suggestion also ignores the well-documented fact that the police can be really awful at handling cases of sexual assault. Recently we learnt that 26% of all sexual offences reported to the police are not even reported as crimes.
The suggestion that UCLU should be forging links with the police to tackle sexual assault is insulting to those students who have experienced the institutionalised racism, sexism and/or violence of the police. When students come to see me it’s because they want to talk to a peer.
Full-time counsellor instead of WO – “And how much would it cost to employ a full-time counsellor to deal with these kinds of cases? The going rate is around the £25,000 per year mark, precisely the salary that Ms Tidbury draws as a sabbatical officer”
Firstly, specialist trained counsellors cost more than £25,000 a year. I have no idea where Gavin has pulled that number from. And secondly, in an ideal world we would have both a Women’s Officer and a properly funded counselling service with a trained specialist in sexual harassment and sexual violence.
But the idea that the latter can replace the former ignores the fact that Women’s Officer is a representative role, and also demonstrates a huge misunderstanding of the position. My job is to understand women students’ experiences at UCL and improve them, not just to support students. This is why seeing students on an individual basis cannot be split from the adversarial side of my job. A full-time counsellor employed by the university would not sit on UCL boards and committees – they could not agitate for institutional change. And if there’s one thing that’s become clear to me over the last four and a half months, it’s that UCL needs to be listening to women students.
You can keep up-to-date with Annie’s work as an officer by following her on Twitter at @UCLU_WO
Featured image credit: Mimi Launder