Sexual Violence Case Study

Delivering student-led consent training and survivor support at a UK university


Almost two-thirds (62%) of students and graduates in the UK experience sexual violence at university. Providing specialised, independent support to these students is a vital part of the university’s welfare offering. 


When we met with Anglia Ruskin University (ARU), it was already steps ahead in terms of survivor support. Existing measures included:

  • Survivor support in partnership with Cambridge Rape Crisis Centre (CRCC). 
  • A team of Harassment Support officers 
  • An Independent Sexual Violence Advocate (ISVA) to support students who have experienced sexual violence, whether recent or historic
  • External support with reporting to the police and advocacy 
  • A programme of workshops and talks on consent run by the Consent Collective


This comprehensive approach meant that ARU quickly noticed when the number of disclosures from the student body increased. They felt their current consent training wasn’t doing enough to engage students and prevent gender-based violence. 



Improving consent awareness among students

ARU’s goal was to improve consent awareness, empowering students to understand consent and make informed choices. 


They hoped to increase the time spent studying consent, sex and relationships and even tailor consent training to the individual faculties and courses at the university. To improve engagement, ARU wanted to consult students in developing the new approach.  


Training to meet every need

ARU welcomes students from 185 countries and has a large number of mature learners. They knew, therefore, that the consent training would need to suit a wide variety of different beliefs, religious views, understanding and experience levels.


Student-led consent education 

Originally ARU came to us for advice on consent and consent training. Working alongside the ISVA and Harassment Support team, we dug into the needs of the student body. Our research showed there was an opportunity for students to get involved in activism, advocacy and using their lived experiences to shape decisions.


We helped ARU set up a student engagement/’expert by experience’ group. This is made up of students who have personal knowledge of or experience of sexual harassment.


‘Expert by experience’ is defined as “personal knowledge about the world gained through direct, first-hand involvement in everyday events rather than through representations constructed by other people.”


It is also defined as “the experiences of people on whom a social issue or combination of issues has had a direct impact.”


The group contributes to ARU’s overall sexual harassment strategy and is responsible for ARU’s engagement with the general student population on sexual relationships and consent. So far, this has included TED-style talks and consent workshops. Though led by students, it’s supported by the ARU’s Harassment Support team. 


ICENA helped establish the group and provided continued support during its first year to set goals, plan engagement and develop the university’s sexual harassment strategy. 


We recommended that students who participate in Expert Advisor roles should be paid and have their out-of-pocket expenses covered in return for their strategic and accountable leadership and decision making. We also helped to:


  • Establish roles within the group and recruit into them, setting up a Terms of Reference and establishing strong relationships with ARU’s Harassment team
  • Guide the development of sexual harassment policies and strategies
  • Co-create workshops and recommend organisations to provide training 
  • Co-create sex education and consent training for each faculty/course at ARU



A student-led, trauma-informed approach to gender-based violence


For just five roles, the team received over 50 applications. Due to the quality of the applicants, ARU ended up hiring 12 students from a range of faculties and campuses across the university. This shows the level of interest and experience in the student body just waiting to be used.  


Creating a student engagement group allowed ARU’s approach to consent to be led by its students and survivors. They now have a more trauma-informed, proactive and empowering approach to sexual harassment and violence. ARU has shown it’s possible to create a safe learning environment and trauma-informed space where students are believed and listened to. 


The students involved benefited from the opportunity to get involved, create social change and get paid for their expertise. Not only is this rewarding, but could lead to greater career opportunities in their life post-university. 


All students at ARU now benefit from a student-led approach to consent and sexual harassment. ARU has made it clear that sexual violence is taken seriously and that students’ viewpoints matter. The content provided is student-approved and uniquely designed to empower students and give them the tools they need. Meanwhile, survivors have what they need to feel supported throughout their journey. 


To measure the project’s success and ensure its longevity, we created an impact measurement framework. The ability to demonstrate the project’s success will help win future funding and maintain support for the initiative. 

“Working with ICENA through a transitional period has provided us with much needed empowerment to bring our ideas to fruition. Having an idea like the Student Sexual Violence Consultancy group was really exciting for ARU Sexual Violence Team, but we were so grateful to be able to talk through our idea with ICENA who really support us with our vision. Peer support is so important working in this area, and to be able to share and exchange expertise is invaluable. Cassie and Naomi were so helpful pointing out the business models that we should put in place to monitor the development and impact of our work with students, and gave us the confidence to bring the project to life. We are so grateful to them both for offering us much needed support, encouragement, and endless smiles at a time when we felt quite lost. Thank you so much to you both! Your energy and positivity brought so much to this project.”


If you’d like to talk to ICENA about how your organisation talks to students about consent, get in touch.

Course: Introduction to Sexual and Domestic Violence (for staff)