Pioneering Violence Against Women project backed by mother of student victim

Caitlin Logan

Experience of student whose abuse led to suicide to be used as training model

STRATHCLYDE University’s Equally Safe in Higher Education (ESHE) project is working closely with the mother of Emily Drouet, an Aberdeen University student who killed herself last year, following physical and emotional abuse from her then boyfriend, Angus Milligan.

The project’s activities this year will include a student and staff survey on gender based violence, training for university staff, and a campus drop-in service for anyone who has experienced rape, sexual assault, violence or harassment.

Emily Drouet’s mother, Fiona (pictured, centre), who first heard about the project from Scottish Women’s Aid, has given it her full support, attending a staff training session this week and granting permission for her daughter’s experience to be used to develop “the Emily Test”.

“When I discovered ESHE through Scottish Women’s Aid I got comfort and hope that finally something meaningful was happening.” Fiona Drouet

The test will form a part of specialist training for security staff at the university, which will highlight all of the points in Emily’s experience where staff could have done something differently.

Speaking of her decision to be involved in the project, Fiona Drouet said: “After losing Emily I felt incredibly anxious trying to ascertain what qualified support and awareness there was in universities. 

“That’s why, when I discovered ESHE through Scottish Women’s Aid, I got comfort and hope that finally something meaningful was happening to support and protect our young students. Their aim of training all staff to not only recognise the signs of abuse but to be aware of the urgent action that must be taken will really make a difference. 

“I believe if the ESHE program had been in place it could have made a huge difference in Emily’s case.  I am honoured to be working with this project and fully support ESHE’s work. We can’t bring Emily back, but we hope that by sharing her story other students will not have to suffer as she did.”

ESHE received two years of Scottish Government funding, ending in March 2018. As part of the project, researchers will produce a toolkit for all universities to take forward in addressing and preventing gender based violence on campus.

Drouet said: “We hope that all Scottish universities will take on board ESHE’s advice and expertise and act accordingly to help make universities a safer environment for our children.

“There can often be warning signs of students suffering.” Fiona Drouet

“Our children are only ‘children’ when they start university. They have just left school where they have known a full network of support. They are vulnerable young adults exploring new areas in their lives and are often living away from home without the warmth and support they take for granted.

“They are given personal tutors but it is not always compulsory for them to meet them – certainly Emily had never met hers.  There can often be warning signs of students suffering but the question is whether a holistic approach is taken by departments to ensure signs are not missed.”

This is exactly the approach which ESHE hopes to develop, by working with all university staff to raise awareness across the board. The training programmes and drop-in centre for students are being delivered in partnership with Glasgow and Clyde Rape Crisis Centre.

Anni Donaldson, Knowledge Exchange Fellow at ESHE, explained the thinking behind the project: “Campus sexual violence is something we’ve become more and more aware of, with some high profile cases recently in the US.

“Here in Scotland we are trying to pre-empt this and fulfil universities’ duties as public bodies to work to prevent gender based violence, as part of the Scottish Government’s wider Equally Safe strategy. That’s why we’re called Equally Safe in Higher Education.”

As part of its broad aim to increase understandings of gender based violence, ESHE is also launching a new online course next week called ‘Understanding Violence Against Women: Myths and Realities’. So far, the course has had over 3000 people sign up from all over the world, and organisers are hoping to get even more people involved.

Picture courtesy of ESHE 

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