5: Universities, Sexual Violence and the Institutional Operation of Power

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This chapter presents findings from research which explored the nature and extent of women students’ experiences of sexual violence at one university in England and the institutional responses to this violence. It considers students’ experiences in the context in which they took place and explores the dominant discourses which shape university responses to sexual violence. A feminist poststructuralist framework is utilized to explore the ways in which the exercise of power, via discourses, constructs a ‘truth’ about sexual violence which shapes students’ behaviour and university responses to sexual violence. Alongside this, the chapter asserts that feminist epistemologies, and feminist praxis, are essential in order to understand women students’ experiences and to create an alternative ‘truth’ about sexual violence. The chapter develops radical, theoretically informed victim- and survivor-led responses which directly challenge current policies and practices in the neoliberal university which are failing women students.

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