Universities Preventing Sexual Harassment

9th August 2018

Universities and colleges across the UK are being challenged on their approaches to issues surrounding sexual violence, in how they support students who have experienced sexual harassment and how they disclosed the number of sexual assaults that have happened on campus.

The National Sexual Violence Resource Centre has produced a factsheet that includes campus sexual assault, with the following startling facts:

  1. One in 5 women and one in 16 men are sexually assaulted while in college
  2. More than 90% of sexual assault victims on college campuses do not report the assault
  3. 63.3% of men at one university who self-reported acts qualifying as rape or attempted rape admitted to committing repeat rapes

The issue is a complicated one for universities, with academia being accused of carrying a culture of denial around sexual misconduct.

Recently there has also been concerns about disclosure of incidents, with reports that current rape and serious sexual assault cases in England and Wales are to be reviewed “as a matter of urgency” to ensure evidence has been disclosed. These reviews come after the collapse of several rape trials because evidence had not been shared with defence lawyers.

In a Guardian article that warns higher education institutions that they may face their #MeToo moment soon, Athene Donald, a professor in experimental physics at the University of Cambridge, argues that the next step in eradicating sexism from science is for colleagues to start calling out harassment when they see it:

“I believe there is more that the academic community can do. Working towards a culture of zero tolerance from every staff member may not only flush out perpetrators but stop them in their tracks.”

For these reasons and more, disclosure of evidence around sexual harassment is key and some universities across the UK are introducing sexual harassment reporting schemes.

The University of Cambridge has introduced anonymous reporting in the shape of a project called “Breaking the Silence”, which aims to prevent harassment and sexual misconduct and try to establish the extent of the problem the University at so that it can be properly tackled.

The number of cases reported has rise since the launch of Breaking the Silence in October 2017. Pro-Vice-Chancellor for Education at Cambridge, Professor Graham Virgo, explains the challenge of reporting sexual harassment incidents but also the benefits:

“The challenge is that one or two complaints a year do not give a university much information with which to formulate a response to the wider problem. Through the anonymous reporting tool, we now have a large number of Cambridge voices who have reported the issues they’ve faced.”

“It supports our belief that we have a significant problem involving sexual misconduct – what we now need to ensure is that those who have been affected receive the support and guidance they need.”

Several other universities have introduced similar anonymous reporting tools, such as the University of Manchester, with their Report and Support scheme.

Unsurprisingly, the number of cases reported has risen, as with anonymous reporting, students may start to have confidence that they can come forward and be heard in person and be given the emotional support, advice and guidance they might need.

Schemes like these are signs that universities are getting closer to the heart of the problem.

For those wanting to address potential issues on their own campuses, Marshall’s Student Disclosure of Unwanted Sexual Incidents course, a joint venture between Marshalls, Coventry University and Rape Crisis, can provide university employees with the confidence to appropriately respond to a disclosure of an unwanted sexual incident by a student and signpost a student to appropriate sources of assistance.

With at least 1 in 7 female students in the UK becoming victims of sexual assault (Hidden Marks, NUS), this course is a response to the need for universities to increase awareness of issues surrounding students’ experiences of unwanted sexual incidents.

Developed in partnership with Coventry University and Rape Crisis England & Wales, uniquely this Student Disclosure of Unwanted Sexual Incidents course is the only online disclosure module developed in partnership with Rape Crisis.

Find out more about the Student Disclosure of Unwanted Sexual Incidents course.

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