Infocus: Heather Farley

The Coordinator of Got Consent talks to The Saint about Sexual Assault Awareness Week

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Credits: Melissa Church

In recent years, the world has seen arise in awareness and outrage regarding sexual misconduct in all aspects of social life. High-profile movements such as Me Too and Times Up dominated the headlines that we read from the comfort of our dorms. The words of Christine Blasey and Rose McGowan rang loud as we made our way to our lectures. Yet for some university students, these words area reality as they have been sexually assaulted as we slept soundlessly through the night.

Whilst there has been a surge of students who are ready and willing to make time and space for this discourse and what can be done to prevent such tragedies, there are some who still struggle with the question of how best to start it. Heather Farley, a fourth-year International Relations student and Got Consent’s Coordinator since 2017, is one individual who has devoted the entirety of her university years to enabling this conversation.

She sat down with The Saint during Sexual Assault Awareness Month to shed light on the work that she has done within Got Consent to destigmatise and prevent this issue for current and prospective students.

Ms Farley explained the concept of Got Consent and what it aims to achieve. “Got Consent is a student-led initiative with the official backing of Student Services and the Students’ Association. We focus on bystander intervention by trying to raise awareness of the prevalence of sexual misconduct in spaces that people may see as unsafe.

“Through workshops and interactions with students, we’re trying to make it a community issue; everyone is the bystander and it’s about being that third party and how you interact with it. It’s directed at the whole community and asking everyone to care about this issue in order to prevent these sorts of things from happening.”

Speaking from a personal perspective, Ms Farley said, “I think that it’s something that is sadly close to a lot of people’s hearts and is an issue that if you look under the surface of any friendship group, it will be there. It’s something that transcends classes, races, everything in a way that other issues may not.”

“When I was in my first year and went to a film screening of The Hunting Ground put on by the previous Got Consent coordinator it brought home to me the issues that I had faced as a teenager and were still happening at university age and level. It made me realise that this was a fight that I really wanted to fight.”

When asked about the significance of having this conversation now, Ms Farley said, “I think that’s a great question. It should have been now a long time ago. It should have been now decades ago, but it wasn’t, and what I’ve witnessed in the past couple of years of being involved is a mark change in the commitment from student communities towards this issue.”

She continued, “It is the sort of issue that you can be dissuaded by so many things just in the everyday society around you. It is and has been an uphill battle but this past year I’ve witnessed a change in people’s attitude. It’s something that can’t be ignored anymore. A lot of this has to do with mirroring greater society – you see the rise of the Me Too movement and the Times Up movement. There’s finally enough traction and momentum that Got Consent can capitalise on that.”

Got Consent has undergone structural changes since Ms Farley entered her role as coordinator. Discussing these, she stated, “Since we have managed to develop a committee structure with the additional roles of volunteer and workshop coordinator and incorporated the member for gender equality and the DoWell, we’ve managed to create a stronger base of people that are pushing for this, not just myself. It’s been really refreshing to have that support.”

“We went from having a base of about six or seven volunteers when I took over, and now we have at least 30 volunteers, with new ones being trained as we speak. Our volunteers are truly wonderful people and I’m very grateful to all of them for the work that they do. It’s how I started, and I know what it’s like to be in that position.

“The group of friends that I’ve gained around this topic, whether it be my committee members, the volunteers or the people who are helping facilitate this entire initiative are truly some of the best people who I have met at university.”

Ms Farley articulated the technicalities of being a volunteer. “The volunteers are responsible for running workshops. It can be for a hall or a society’s committee that wants to be trained. The workshops are about an hour long and they are an active participation between the audience. It’s not really a lecture structure, it’s more of a conversation – and we like to call It a conversation about consent so that it doesn’t feel intimidating to people.”

Upon questioning about the current progress of the workshops becoming mandatory, she stated, “It’s important to note that it’s not technically mandatory yet. Making them mandatory isn’t just a question of saying ‘well we should do them’, there’s so many steps between all the different cogs in the machine as it were, between registry, student services, and the halls. All these different elements have to come together and we’re just one part of that.

“We passed a motion on 19 February through the Students’ Association saying that the student body is advocating for mandatory consent workshops. Getting that motion done has put a lot of pressure on the University and we’re meeting with the proctor next week to discuss options of how they can help to make this mandatory.

“We’re trying to expand what we’re doing but the workshops are the foundation and above that comes into publicity and advertising. It’s currently Sexual Assault Awareness Month (SAAM), and for that we are collaborating with a good few other societies to put on events.”

Adding to this, Ms Farley welcomed the addition of Got Consent merchandise, for which the proceeds will be donated to The Fife Rape and Sexual Assault Centre (FRASAC) in Dundee.

Ms Farley’s dedication to improving the awareness of sexual misconduct extended past term time, when she interned at Student Services last summer for the StAnd Together programme. “I spent that time working on the support and reporting resources that the Student Services webpage has in order to make it more user friendly and to better access support.

“It made me understand their organisation in a completely different light and I really enjoyed that. I’m grateful for my relationship with my boss, Penny at Student Services. None of this would be possible without having someone in the institution pioneering and spearheading this.”

Whilst many students in her year gave their time to sports clubs or art gatherings, Ms Farley made several improvements with Got Consent to ensure that adequate resources are provided to students. She discussed the various initiatives.

She said, “The support report cards are probably one of the things I’m most proud of. You can find them in the library bathrooms, the ASC Centre, the Student Services reception, all the halls, and in the Union. They are supposed to streamline the reporting process. You can subtlety hand them to any trained member of Student Services and they, knowing that it’s a discreet issue about sexual misconduct, will take you to a specially-trained advisor.

“I also made a resource for survivors diagram which is on the University website. It’s a very clearway of showing all the different options you have if something like this happens to you. Students can quickly and easily understand all of their options in terms of what the University can provide for them and what limitations the University might have.”

She continued, “All AU presidents have been trained and we’ve expanded our reach into societies. We’re hoping that by having a workshop that is slightly more geared to leadership we can invoke a different emotion in those workshops than we do with freshers.

“We’re also currently developing one with Saints LGBT+ that is more queer-focussed. We’re aware that inclusion is important in this discussion. A lot of the legal framework and the conversation in society is very binary – it’s very male-on-female crime. Unfortunately, that is still the case fora lot of sexual misconduct, but that is not to suggest that it doesn’t happen within other relationships. It’s just less visible and less addressed.”

On reflecting on her time here at St Andrews, Ms Farley said, “The work that I’ve done with Got Consent is probably the biggest piece of pride that I have. On an individual basis, you can do so much more than you think you can.

“The thing that I take a lot of comfort in is knowing that Got Consent has a far further reach than we could ever possibly know. It’s about that student who’s on a night out and nudges their friend to say ‘hey, that girl’s too drunk’. Just tiny moments of bystander intervention are really what this entire initiative is all about and for me, that’s the best part of it.”

With this warm reflection, Ms Farley wished to encourage more people to engage with this issue. She said, “My advice for people who are thinking about getting involved: do it. It’s really one of the best decisions you can make at university. Not only are you giving back, you’re also getting a great group of likeminded people from it.

“In terms of reaching out to people, I just want to see more men. The male volunteers that we do have a way of conducting the workshops that’s wonderful. They’re some of our best volunteers. We have a mixed array of genders. It’s really important; this discussion is for everyone. It’s not just a women’s space. It’s a space for the entire community.”

Ms Farley has undoubtedly laid the foundations of Got Consent for the future, and perhaps, on a deeper level, she has paved a way for discourse on sexual misconduct to start in this town.

Speaking of this, she said, “For the initiative in general, I think one of the things that I’m hoping for is truly just a higher presence on campus and intown. Got Consent definitely reaches the Union spaces, it reaches the very first few weeks of freshers’ encounters in St Andrews, but I want it to be something that is consistently and continuously throughout people’s university experiences, something that they can go back to and relate to.”

“My successor, Anoushka Kohli, has been a wonderful part of the committee. She is more than qualified and she’s going to do an incredible job. She has a whole team behind her, a bigger base of support that really do care about the issue. In that sense I’m excited. I’m sad to leave though.”

Ms Farley then looked to the future and what lay ahead for her beyond the ambitions she has fulfilled during her time with Got Consent. “The role has become a passion of mine and something that I plan on continuing after I graduate university. I would definitely end up in a space that is either associated with the combatting of sexual violence in some regard or an equalities-based gendered initiative.

“They are two of the things that for me personally are closest to my heart, but also contribute to so many issues in society that are rectifiable and is what I want to commit myself to doing.”

Ms Farley spoke to The Saint representing an initiative that needs to be brought to the forefront of our agendas, but she was also keen to express the enormous impact one individual can have if they give their time to a worthy cause. “Of course, I’m in my fourth year, second semester and the most important thing to me is my dissertation and my academics but the changes that we’re making with Got Consent are going to last at this university a lot longer than my degree is. That legacy is important to me.

“Not only are we impacting people’s safety and wellbeing, we’re also garnering this really great group of people that are fighting for something that’s important. That energy is something that I haven’t come across many times before. It’s inspiring and exhilarating. “I love being around people that really care about something so important. It makes me feel valid in my cares about it too. Got Consent is starting to become as important to other people as it is to me, and that’s quite exciting.”

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