International students ‘less likely’ to report sexual misconduct

Paper calls for mandatory consent training and improved complaints processes

一月 20, 2023
Source: iStock

English universities must make it easier for international students who might face a language barrier to report harassment and sexual misconduct, a study urges.

The Office for Students-commissioned paper also found that just half of students from outside the UK would feel comfortable reporting such incidents.

Academics at the London School of Economics were looking into some key issues that could help the international community integrate into UK campus life.

They say studies have indicated that overseas students are more likely to be the target of sexual violence because of sociocultural insecurity, different norms and cultures in socialisation patterns, and little knowledge of reporting procedures.

One previous example found that overseas students at the University of Canberra were three times more likely to be sexually assaulted than their domestic peers.

However, the paper acknowledges that there is limited information about and awareness of their unique experiences of harassment and sexual misconduct while studying in the UK.

One major challenge that emerged from the LSE’s fieldwork was ensuring that international students were clear about what consent entails.

“The prestige of UK higher education and the perceived high levels of gender equality in the UK meant it was sometimes difficult for international students to make sense of their experience of staff sexual misconduct,” one provider told them.

Therefore, teaching about consent and developing effective training modules are “essential and crucial” to raise awareness, the study urges.

The paper claims that mandatory consent training would help all students – but particularly those from overseas – recognise and appropriately label their experiences.

Another challenge identified was the process of reporting incidents, which is not always clear-cut and which remains “very distressing” for victims.

“This difficulty increases when codes and practices from different cultures interact,” the study says. “An international student might have additional issues asking for help because their grasp of the language is not thorough enough, especially to describe such a complex situation.”

Researchers were told of the importance of developing a simple and easily accessible complaints system with one single point of contact for the lodging of all formal reports of incidents.

A survey of 1,400 international students showed that 54 per cent would be comfortable asking their university for support in handling incidents of harassment and sexual misconduct.

One in five said they would be uncomfortable doing so – which was the largest response across seven different issues respondents were asked about.

As a result, the LSE paper recommends that providers strengthen the governance framework dealing with harassment and sexual misconduct – including focusing on prevention through mandatory consent training modules.

It also calls for the development of “transparent, accessible, and friendly” reporting systems to make them more easy to use by international students.



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