Meet Ana Flores Reis, Queen Mary’s new Sexual Assault and Harassment Adviser in the Advice and Counselling Service, and Christina Govier, the Policy and Campaigns Manager (Tackling Sexual Violence, Sexual Harassment and Hate Crime) in the Student Life team. In their profile, they tell us about the new Sexual Assault and Harassment Advisor role, Report + Support, and how they work together to deliver staff training.
Christina Govier and Ana Flores Reis
I joined Queen Mary in May this year, and the biggest part of my role is to provide direct practical and emotional support to students who have experienced any form of sexual violence or abuse, whether that’s happened recently or in the past, at university or not. Practical and emotional support could include anything from advice on accommodation or legal options if someone is feeling unsafe, to spending time normalising and acknowledging the feelings experienced after a trauma such as this one.
I also make sure they are connected to the right support services. Someone might need a referral to a sexual health clinic, or access to more specialist counselling/support group. The idea is that the support is completely led by the student.
Then there's the non-frontline part of the role as well, which includes training and awareness-raising sessions for staff and students. As this is a new role, there's such a good opportunity for us to shape it in a way that feels relevant to our Queen Mary community.
I joined in January 2022, so I've been at Queen Mary for about eight months now. My average week is quite often made-up of looking at the reports we're receiving into Report + Support - Queen Mary's secure online platform for reporting incidents - and making sure they are triaged to the right support within the University.
My role includes planning training, whether that is working with Ana responding to disclosures of sexual violence, or looking at the broader areas I work in. I also spend time planning or organising activities as part of a wider awareness raising campaign, for example National Hate Crime Awareness Week. I'm often following up on pieces of work which the Preventing Harassment and Sexual Misconduct Working Group have discussed. Day-to-day, that could look like trying to understand how we could promote things better to students, including our Consent Matters training.
Ana: One of the big things that we worked on together recently was planning a stall for Welcome Week to promote Report + Support, the Consent Matters training, and the role of the Sexual Assault and Harassment Adviser.
We’ll also be looking to plan events around other key dates and campaigns throughout the year including 16 Days of Activism against Gender-Based Violence in November and Sexual Abuse and Sexual Violence Awareness Week in February. We have a programme of events for the 16 Days of Activism that will take place throughout November/beginning of December. These will include domestic abuse training for staff, a day of stalls where students and staff can find out more about what services are available to them, workshops for students and a film night. You can find out more about these events on the Report + Support website.
Christina: The only thing I'd add to that is also working together to deliver training when it's related to sexual violence or sexual harassment. We also look to make sure that we're joining up and implementing best practice across the University when we're responding to reports.
Christina: When a report is made, it comes through to a small triage team, which is made up of myself, the Head of Student Life and the Head of Student Wellbeing. From there, we're really guided by what the reporting party has requested. For example, if the student has asked for support, we will assign the case to the Advice and Counselling Service. Ana sits within that team, so if it was a case of sexual violence the person would be able to get support from her.
If a student has stated in their report that they'd like it to be investigated or to consider a formal report, we will assign that to the Appeals, Complaints and Conduct Office.
For staff who have made a report, we assign that to HR who will be able to look at signposting them to emotional and wellbeing support if requested, but can also assist if an investigation or a formal report is required.
If a report is made anonymously, we're not able to take any direct action, but these reports help us to understand the types of issues that students and staff are experiencing. In those reports it allows the reporting party to say why they made an anonymous report which can help us understand how to improve our reporting practices.
Ana: We're trying to make the services as accessible as possible. We know that there are still barriers to reporting and not everyone feels comfortable using Report + Support, so students can contact me directly, they can self-refer to Advice and Counselling, or they can ask Student Support Officers or any other academic staff member to refer them on their behalf. The only thing that we need is for the student to be happy to be referred, because we don’t want to replicate any dynamics of taking power and control from people.
We encourage colleagues to contact us directly if they have a specific training need. For example, if we have students who are on placement and might be in a setting where they are worried about experiencing any kind of sexual violence or harassment, then we'll help to create a specific training package for staff supporting those students.
We’ve been working closely with Tower Hamlets Council to recognise National Hate Crime Awareness Week this year, and we offered training to staff to recognise and respond to hate crime as part of this. We’re also working closely with the Tower Hamlets Violence Against Women and Girls’ team to explore their training offer and any support they can provide to the community at Queen Mary, whether that be staff or students.
Ana: For me, it's the frontline work of supporting students. Students are incredibly resilient, and I think sometimes people have this idea of survivors or victims as being quite passive. But when people come to me, they're quite resourceful and resilient, they have the tools that they need to recover from what's happened to them. I feel really humbled and amazed by how incredibly resilient they are. Also, by the trust that they place in me when they come to the service, considering that it is such a brand-new service at the University and how difficult it can be to trust a new person when something like this has happened to you.
Christina: I think for me, while it’s not nice to receive a report where something's happened, it's knowing that we can signpost people to support, and being able to work alongside roles like Ana’s. It’s great seeing different parts of the University come together to address these really important issues. I’m also really proud of Queen Mary’s Preventing Harassment and Sexual Misconduct Working Group because I think the people who attend the group are really interested in best practice to address these matters across the University.
Ana: It definitely makes a big difference. When you were talking about that Christina, I was thinking about a case I supported recently that came through from a Mental Health Adviser, then we got our Residential Services colleagues involved. The teams came together to make sure that this student felt safe and supported. That’s been really nice to see.
Ana: Sometimes, I do toy with some of my good friends about owning a bookshop where we would have cats and serve tea and coffee. People could buy books, adopt rescue cats, and have a drink. That would be a dream!
Christina: For me, besides being an employee at Ana's cafe cat shop which I would love, I'm really passionate about film and photography as a way of telling stories and raising awareness. I think if I had my time again, I would love to be a documentary filmmaker.
Ana: I quite like the fact that we are really close to the Canal, and though I end up having lunch at my desk more often than I would like, when I can I really enjoy going for a walk. I think we’re lucky to have that so close to us.
Christina: I'm also a big fan of the canal. Sitting there on a sunny day is peaceful and a really nice way to spend your lunch.