New Report: Consent training and sexual violence prevention in UK universities

We are delighted to present GenPol’s report on consent training and sexual violence prevention in British universities. Through desk research, focus groups, workshops, and an online survey, we have aimed to assess how current training practices help prevent sexual violence on campus, and what else could be done to support practitioners and enhance the impact of prevention work. This report was born from the collaboration between GenPol and Dr Tom Dougherty, a philosopher who researches consent at the University of Cambridge. It has seen us working for many months with university staff, students, trainers, sexual violence experts and gender equality activists.

Our commitment to ending sexual violence

As think tank researchers and gender equality advocates, at GenPol we work closely with universities, their students and personnel. Many of our researchers are, or have been, academics, and many of our interns study at, or have just come out of, university. Thus, we are painfully aware of the existence of sexual harassment and assault on campus. It saddens and outrages us beyond words, and we are committed to do our bit to end it. We hope that this report may be a useful tool for peer-to-peer trainers, student leaders and activists, as well as for sexual violence professionals and all those who work to tackle gender-based abuse in all its forms. We dedicate it to all victims and survivors, whose courage and resilience is a never-ending source of inspiration.

Our findings

Our data analysis clearly shows that consent training is increasingly perceived as an effective violence prevention tool by trainers and beneficiaries alike, and adopted by more and more universities nation-wide. We identified a number of good practices for consent workshops, including break-away group discussions, scenario and myth-busting exercises, and the use of national and local statistics on assault and harassment. However, our report also highlights existing challenges and areas for improvement. These include the reluctance of (mostly male) students to attend consent workshops, existing time constraints, and the fact that trainers struggle to find a suitable language and cover a plethora of complex topics.

Above all, we found that training as a stand-alone tool is not particularly successful. In fact, trainees turn cynical and lose motivation if they do not see their institution truly committing to address the problem, and an institutional culture of sexual respect is not developed. Specifically, our respondents complained about the fragmentation of sexual violence reporting mechanisms and disciplinary procedures across universities, and even colleges within the same institution. They also felt that specifically trained personnel and sexual violence professionals (including therapists) should support consent trainers.

Building on this, we issued a set of comprehensive recommendations for peer-to-peer trainers, student unions, universities, sexual violence professionals and other relevant stakeholders. They include:

  • The introduction of transparent reporting mechanisms for sexual harassment, assault and discriminatory behaviours across universities nation-wide (ideally, an anonymous online reporting system should be developed aside non-anonymous reporting forms, easily accessible on universities’ websites);

  • The introduction of clear, appropriate and well-advertised disciplinary measures, and of specific compulsory training on gender-based violence and discrimination for members of staff;

  • Hiring specially trained therapists to support survivors of abuse and their loved ones, as well as students and staff with specific pastoral duties;

  • Offering multiple forms of consent training and spreading teaching over different sessions, so that complex topics can be dealt with, and information and ideas can sink in;

  • Using in consent training well-tested delivery methods such as breakaway groups (with the double option of single-gender groups and mixed ones), open and interactive discussions, myth-busting, scenario and privilege-related exercises, local case studies, reflections on the differences between legal and ethical concerns);

  • Designing consent training to change not only beliefs but behaviours (through exercises aimed at developing empathy, processing difficult emotions, and offering creative strategies to identify and respond to problematic behaviours);

  • Mapping existing consent-related resources and making them available to the student community;

  • Carefully monitoring and evaluating consent training.


For further details, please see the report below. This study is part of a broader research project started with Can Education stop abuse?’, a comprehensive policy paper in which we examined the linkage between consent-centred sexuality education and gender-based violence on an European level.

Happy reading!

Click here to read the report




Social innovation, anti-mafia and intersectionality made in (Southern) Italy

Students of social innovation know only too well the power of symbols and story-telling. Those who look for innovative solutions to complex, wicked social problems face, first, the challenge of conceptualising and clearly explaining to others the very social evils they are trying to address. This is usually no trivial matter: the way we consider approaching, say, violence against women and girls will very much depend on how, and through which lenses, we understand this phenomenon. Secondly, social innovators who are lucky enough to have identified viable solutions often struggle to illustrate this to donors, investors or policy-makers, and more generally to anyone who’s not as familiar with the subject as they are (or, indeed, as passionate).

There is, however, a third way in which the ability to forge narratives, and use sets of languages and symbols, is key to social innovation work. In fact, tackling some of the most entrenched social problems generally requires not only long-term, sustainable actions, but also a change in people’s habits and way of mind. This is where so-called cultural entrepreneurship, namely the processes and skills that allow innovators to (re)craft identities and symbolic practices to gain legitimacy and open up access to new resources and opportunities, often come into play.

Southern Italy, and especially my native Naples and Campania region, offer plenty of intriguing examples. Born in a land rich in traditions, rituals and unspoken rules, no Neapolitan would ever deny how much symbols and stories matter. It is no wonder that local social innovators pay close, conscious attention.

Take the case of Radio Siani, an anti-mafia social cooperative based in the small town of Ercolano (Naples), long-dominated by mafia interests, and once a central hub for extortion and drug trafficking. Radio Siani’s headquarters are in a flat that once belonged to a mafia boss. He used to watch the murders he had commissioned from the balcony .where young activists now enjoy their cigarettes. The flat currently hosts an anti-mafia web-radio (its origins lie in the fact that criminals in and out of prison exchanged messages through their own local radio). The organisation also runs educational activities for the local young people, and workshops for students who come to visit from all over the region. All visitors are asked to leave a message on the wall of what once was the boss’s kitchen.

Over the years, radio broadcasting has become increasingly intersectional, including a sex ed radio programme, regular coverage of LGBT+ issues, and awareness-raising emissions on the theme of disability. When interviewed, Radio Siani activists argued that mafia is fought not only talking crime and spreading ‘legality culture’, but also working towards an equal, democratic and non-violent world, where everyone’s rights, particularly those of the traditionally oppressed, are defended. It is definitely not by chance that the organisation was involved in the setting up of Lilith, the very first gender-based violence emergency point ever opened in Ercolano (now sadly shut down due to lack of funding).


This intersectional ethos is evident in Radio Siani’s effort to reclaim the mafia’s own words and symbols, and propose positive language, rituals and role models to those who were born in a mafia-dominated area. In fact, the radio and the social cooperative are both named after Giancarlo Siani, a Neapolitan journalist killed by the mafia in 1985, aged 26. The flat is packed with pictures and images of Giovanni Falcone and Paolo Borsellino, Sicilian judges also murdered by organised crime, and of Miriam Makeba, one of the most audible voices of the anti-Apartheid and civil rights movements.

The cooperative’s members have recently started to engage in agricultural work, producing a special breed of tomatoes in a field which was, too, once confiscated from a criminal family. The tomatoes, small and pointy, have been nick-named pizzini, slang word for sharp-edged objects but also for the messages whereby the Sicilian mafia used to communicate. Agricultural projects also serve the purpose of offering work opportunities to kids just come out of juvenile prisons in the area, many of whom share a migrant background or a history of mental health issues. Radio Siani’s staff makes a point to provide them with professional and personal mentorship, as well as examples of healthy, non-violent masculine bonds.

Other actors in the Ercolano’s anti-mafia network are equally cultural entrepreneurship-conscious. The Associazione Anti-Racket, the charity which unites shop-owners and entrepreneurs who rebelled to mafia’s extortions and reported offences to the police, organises a yearly ‘anti-extortion’ walk, where the civil society is invited to take the streets and reclaim the right to own their town. Enlightened local school principals adopted an open-door policy, arguing that schools should be open well beyond class-time to offer kids a stimulating alternative to life on the street. The carabinieri (Italian military force with police duties), very much involved in anti-mafia work and central to the eradication of the extortion practice in Ercolano, are about to move to a new head-quarter, in the very centre of the town once controlled by criminal families.

Tomatoes and public walks, radio broad-casting and messages on the wall, then, all fulfil a similar purpose. They are the tools whereby activists and innovators reclaim bits and pieces of an oppressive system (that of organised crime, or, say, that stemming from the intersection of the discrimination directed against women, the LGBT+ community , migrants and disabled people), re-forging them for new purposes. They are meant to empower people and local communities in innovative ways, with the long-term purpose of making social change possible.

Stories worth telling? I’d say a couple of very poignant lessons to be learned.

(This blog is a revised version of a longer articles published on the Cambridge Judge Business School’s website).

Lilia Giugni
GenPol CEO

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