Students receive award for ideas to address online sexual violence

Published on 22 February 2017

Gender-based and sexual violence affects young people all over the world and students in the UK are no exception.

Sex, Rights and Pleasure Lab: Award winners
‘Some of the team members from the Consent Absent? team who won the Audience Award’ by IDS

Research published in the latest issue of the IDS Bulletin shows that online spaces are increasingly dominated by the new ‘gatekeepers’ like Facebook, Google and YouTube controlling online censorship on a wide scale (frequently relating nudity with pornography) and in a porn-saturated environment widely censoring online sexual health information. Online platforms are also sites of gender-based abuse and sexual harassment where women, LGBT and people of colour are more regularly and consistently harassed online.

To help address this, IDS and the University of Sussex came together to run the Sex, Rights and Pleasure Lab. The four-day Lab saw a large number of students come together to learn and discuss new ideas for interventions to digitally-mediated gender-based and sexual violence.

With the help of designers, researchers and marketing experts (including representatives from MTV and Durex) they developed solutions-focused ideas which they pitched live to senior international gender research specialists. They then recorded these pitches on film to an expert jury and a general audience on the internet to compete for the Jury and the Audience Awards (which included a £200 cash prize and gifts from Durex). The Award winners were announced at a special event on Valentines Day.

And the winner is….

Nine international judges cast their votes. They were asked to consider the originality of the intervention, how it complimented existing ideas, how relevant it was to real-life student experiences and how well it demonstrated an understanding of the complexities of realising social inclusion in the digital era.

The Jury’s Award

All of the judges remarked on the strength of thought and the innovatory approaches taken. One judge commented: “I find this [initiative] very empowering… This is a global issue that can be applied widely”. Another commended all the teams on the high quality and clarity of their ideas. But there could only be one judge’s winner. With over 40 per cent of the votes, the first ever Sex, Rights and Pleasure Lab Award went to Sussing Out Sex.

The winning team said: “Our pitch is to #SussOutSex by openly discussing sex, at the University of Sussex. We want to make diverse, everyday human experiences of sex visible through creative and reflective storytelling – a powerful tool to express our dilemmas, expectations, and emotions. It’s time to break the culture of silence and stigma around sex, pleasure, and sexuality, on campus and in our society. By collaborating with a strong network of staff and alumni, as well as external organisations, our proposed programme is aimed at students who wish to transform lived experiences of sexual pleasure, guilt, violence, pain, and shame through facilitated theatre, art, poetry, dance, and music workshops. These stories can be showcased on campus and at local arts festivals, in efforts to create an open, respectful, and responsible learning community. Following this, we can design an online open source story-telling platform, which serve as an educational resource for university students.”

Watch their pitch:


The Audience Award

The Audience Award was voted for by a global audience via You Tube. The teams were invited to use their own networks to promote and shamelessly plug their ideas as well as being publicised through IDS and University of Sussex channels. The total winning score was calculated by adding the number of video views and the number of likes times 5. With a total score of 1591 views and 280 likes – the winner of the first Audience Pleasure Lab Award went to Consent Absent?.

The team behind the pitch explained: “Consent absent? is a practical and sustainable project to empower and support survivors of digital, verbal and physical sexual abuse, and their allies. The project builds on an existing University of Sussex mobile app which has already been downloaded by 10,000 students of the university. The app extension aims to empower, advise and guide, as well as increase access to existing reporting tools for sexual abuse. Survivors and their allies will have the opportunity to share their experiences, reducing the isolation and shame that, according to a recent Students’ Union survey, they frequently experience. After launch, this concept can be taken up by universities in the UK as well as some regions abroad, given the prevalence of mobile phone ownership.”

Watch their pitch:



Next steps

All four interventions have real potential to be implemented. Andrea Cornwall, University of Sussex’s Deputy Pro-Vice-Chancellor (Equalities and Diversity), is looking into if and how this can be done with university funds. And revenge porn is an emerging area of interest for organisations like Brook. The organisers hope that the teams are willing to take the initiative to pursue these opportunities and implement these innovations.

IDS’s Pauline Oosterhoff said:The wonderful thing about this approach to tackling gender-based and sexual violence is that it has the potential to be scaled up and rolled out across universities in the UK and internationally. It would be amazing to see that happen’.



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