• Sat. Jul 13th, 2024

EXCLUSIVE: Edinburgh University recommends “controversial” resource to survivors of sexual assault

ByLucy Jackson

Feb 9, 2023
One side of the Main Library building, looking up from outside. The sky has several clouds.

CW: Sexual violence, transphobia

The Student has learned that the University of Edinburgh has officially recommended Beira’s Place, a potentially misleading and harmful resource, to students who have experienced sexual assault.

Beira’s Place describes itself as “a sexual violence support service for women – run by women”. The centre is a “single-sex service” and receives funding from J.K. Rowling, a leading figure in the gender-critical movement.

Also on the Board of Directors is Susan Smith, co-director of For Women Scotland, an organisation which opposed the recent Gender Recognition Reform Bill Scotland and which argues that “there are only two sexes, that a person’s sex is not a choice, nor can it be changed.”

The organisation states that there is “no evidence” that “gender identity” exists, labelling it as a “belief system”, arguing that transgender women “are just male people who subjectively believe that they are female” and that this “should not over-ride women’s hard fought for rights.”

In a meeting with the Women’s Liberation Officer at Edinburgh University Students’ Association (EUSA), Lesley Johnston, of the Equally Safe team and the university’s Sexual Violence & Harassment Liaison Manager, admitted that the centre was “controversial” and had been the centre of many stories in the media, but that the “website is fantastic”.

Because of her role as Sexual Violence & Harassment Liaison Manager, Johnston is often the first person survivors of sexual assault will encounter after reporting their assault.

In recommending a service that holds such beliefs at its core, and which defines itself as a “single-sex service” and is thus exclusionary of trans women, the University of Edinburgh could potentially be putting transgender students at further risk of harassment and abuse during an already difficult period following their assault.

“The university is structurally transphobic. No one should go somewhere for support as a survivor and be treated as a predator.”

The recommendation could also be in violation of the university’s Dignity and Respect Policy, which states that “inappropriate communication” is a violation of its policy (Section 4, ‘Unacceptable Behaviour’). The university’s Trans Equality Policy does not list the communication of resources which could potentially harm trans people as a violation of its policy, but does state that “[w]e fully recognise our legal responsibility to protect the rights of transgender people and to ensure that no individual is subject to discrimination or victimisation as a result of the gender in which they present themselves.”

This resource list compiled by the University of Edinburgh has since been updated to acknowledge that Beira’s Place is a “single-sex women’s service”.

Hope Conway-Gebbie, Women’s Liberation Officer at EUSA, told The Student:

“It is vital that all students accessing the Equally Safe team receive support which is respectful of their identities and experiences.

“The university’s willingness to recommend an organisation funded by J.K. Rowling to student survivors, in the most vulnerable moment, makes it clear that trans students are not receiving this support.”

As of February 24, the University of Edinburgh has requested an updated statement to be published.

A spokesperson for the University of Edinburgh told The Student:

“The University has established a team of experienced, specialised staff dedicated to supporting any student affected by sexual violence, harassment or other forms of gender-based violence.

“As part of this important service, external resources that could offer further assistance may be highlighted during a one-to-one session with a student. This information would always be provided on a case-by-case basis, as students’ individual circumstances are taken into careful consideration.

“Beira’s Place is one of 16 resources listed on the University’s website, as it may provide help to some students. It is understood that some services have paused taking referrals due to waiting lists. It is therefore the University’s position to highlight this service as an option, rather than a decision made by individual members of staff.

“Descriptions of services from external providers would be highlighted to students as much as possible to enable them to make well-informed decisions that will help them to feel safe, supported and to move forward.”

The Student also spoke to Robyn Woof, Trans and Non-binary Liberation Officer at EUSA, who said:

“My experience of cis students at Edinburgh is that they are not transphobic, with many cis students actively campaigning and protesting for our rights. [That the university would believe] it would be appropriate to recommend this service to cis students is also dangerous.

“This is not just an issue which affects trans students – if an ally went for support and was recommended this service they may not feel comfortable accessing further support from the university.

“The university is structurally transphobic. No one should go somewhere for support as a survivor and be treated as a predator.”

There are many resources available for students who have experienced sexual assault:

  • Edinburgh Rape Crisis Centre – free, confidential support and information for women, all members of the trans community, non-binary people and young people aged 12-18 who have experienced sexual violence at any time in their lives
  • NHS Lothian Rivers Centre – a support service run by the NHS for individuals who have experienced psychological trauma, but which specialises in supporting survivors of sexual violence. You can ask for a referral from your GP.
  • SARCS – the NHS Scotland sexual assault self-referral phone service for support following a rape or sexual assault. The service can arrange for a forensic medical examination within 7 days of the assault, without making a report to the police, and also link in with follow-up support. Contact: 0800 148 8888 (24-hour service).
  • Archway Sexual Assault Referral Centre – Free support and physical examinations for people who have experienced sexual assault (including keeping forensic evidence if you are not ready to report to the police).
  • Victim Support Scotland – Free advice and support on the Criminal Justice system, should you decide to report the assault to the police.
  • Advice Place – a confidential service run by the Students’ Association which offers guidance and support for students who have experienced sexual assault

Image “Edinburgh University Library” by qwghlm is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0.

By Lucy Jackson

President of The Student.