1st Responder Training is changing

1st Responder Training is changing

Over the past few months I have been leading a review of the First Respondent training package Oxford SU provides to students. We strive to offer the best training programmes for our students, and I am happy to announce the changes we will be making to First Respondent training. First Respondent training is a 90 minute training session which any student has been welcome to attend, but we have especially encouraged students who have undertaken welfare roles in their common room (e.g. women’s officers, welfare reps and night safety teams, sometimes called bop angels) to take the training. The training aimed to equip students with the skills needed to compassionately listen and respond to disclosures of sexual violence and/or harassment. After speaking extensively with the director of Oxfordshire Sexual Assault and Rape Crisis Centre (OSARCC) and the University Student Welfare and Support Services (SWSS) about this training, we have concluded that changes need to be made to our current training package to ensure our students are best equipped to respond to harassment in a safe and effective way.  

I recently asked current First Respondents to fill in a survey about their experiences. Responses to this survey further highlighted the need to change the training. Common concerns raised both from students and from those consulted at OSARCC and SWSS are as follows:

Support and Feedback

The majority of survey respondents said they did not seek support for their own wellbeing after listening to a disclosure. It is important that future training emphasises that students undertaking welfare roles must take time to look after their own wellbeing, and the SU must look into creating a more comprehensive feedback loop and support network for the students we train in future.

Students who did seek support for their own emotions after listening to a disclosure primarily chose to speak with a peer supporter, or they were a peer supporter themselves. Given that first respondents are using peer supporters as their primary support network or are themselves a peer supporter, the specific skills learned to respond to a disclosure of sexual violence (e.g. the legal responsibilities involved) will still be provided as an add-on training option for peer supporters.

Legal Responsibilities

The majority of students who responded to the survey had not taken notes after listening to a disclosure, with some students citing that this was because they did not feel comfortable being called upon to give statements about the disclosure in legal proceedings should the occasion arise. This particular element of the training needs to change substantially, as at the moment it is clear that students do not understand or are not comfortable with the legal responsibilities associated with being the recipient of a first disclosure.

Misuse of First Respondents

When asked how First Respondents are used in colleges, the most common responses were that they were advertised as part of the welfare network via things like posters, and that they were used as help at welfare events, some students referred to First Respondents being used as ‘sober squads’ during fresher’s week or at bops in college. First Respondent training equips students to deal with disclosures of sexual violence, not to prevent sexual violence from happening at student events. Increasingly, colleges are placing the responsibility of ensuring the safety of students at these events on to other students, so it is clear that there is demand for training better suited for students taking on these roles.

Next Steps

OSARCC and SWSS will assist Oxford SU to redevelop First Respondent training into a package which is more useful to students and better ensures their safety and wellbeing. Students were asked what they would like to see included in training packages relating to sexual violence in future. Responses can be categorised in to two key ideas:

  • Students would like training which focuses more on how to respond to incidents as they occur e.g. in clubs
  • Students would like more Information about how to respond to non-sexual incidents of harassment

Following these suggestions and the recommendations of OSARCC and SWSS, a revised version of First Respondent training will be available for peer supporters to attend which will equip them to compassionately respond to disclosures and provide them with clear guidance regarding legal responsibilities relating to first disclosures. Students who are not peer supporters will not be able to take this training as Oxford SU does not have capacity to create and maintain a feedback loop to support those listening to disclosures such as the one peer supporters have provided to them by the counselling service. First Respondent training for general students will now be replaced by Bystander Intervention training. Bystander Intervention is a significant strategy in the prevention of sexual violence and other types of harassment. Unlike First Respondent training, Bystander Intervention will equip students to proactively engage with and challenge difficult behaviours as they see it. I hope that students will consider Bystander Intervention as a way to contribute to creating a safer community across our University. 

The first Bystander Intervention training session will be held on Thursday 3rd May. Sign up here: https://goo.gl/forms/JRyjDmdM6439mQdp2

The first ‘First Response for Peer Supporters’ training session will be held later in the term, more information to follow.

Any comments or questions please contact vpwomen@oxfordsu.ox.ac.uk