Call for universities to publish annual data on harassment

Greater transparency would provide a more accurate picture of sexual misconduct in sector, campaigners say after Everyone’s Invited allegations

May 12, 2021
Students take part in a sexual consent protest on Cornmarket Street in Oxford
Source: Alamy

Universities should publish annual data on sexual harassment complaints to help drive rape culture out of higher education, campaigners said.

Only a handful of UK institutions currently publish this information, in anonymised form: the University of Cambridge, Durham University, Goldsmiths, University of London and UCL.

Anna Bull, co-director of The 1752 Group, which works to end sexual misconduct in higher education, said publishing annual statistics on complaints would provide “greater transparency in this area, and give activists and universities an idea of what’s actually going on in their institution. It would be very easy to do.”

The call came amid mounting pressure for universities to tackle sexual harassment in the sector following the publication of thousands of allegations of misconduct and abuse on the Everyone’s Invited website.

Helen Mott, a research consultant specialising in sexual harassment and violence against women, said the institutions that did publish data were “an example of good practice in a field where many institutions have been very slow to change”.

UCL’s reporting includes the number of allegations received and the action taken in response. Durham details the number of incidents reported, whether they were anonymous or not, and planned actions for the next six months.

However, Dr Mott cautioned that making reporting mandatory without ensuring that all staff and students were aware of how to lodge complaints “could create a perverse incentive for institutions to obstruct rather than facilitate access to reporting and, therefore, to justice or support”.

Vice-chancellors’ group Universities UK said its position was that publishing data increased transparency and made it clear to students that misconduct would not be tolerated, “which can help in shifting institutional culture”.

UUK said that when universities saw an initial rise in cases, it should be considered “an indicator of trust and confidence by students that the university takes these issues seriously”.

Dr Bull, a senior lecturer in the University of Portsmouth’s School of Education and Sociology, agreed that an uplift in complaints would indicate that students had confidence that their institution took sexual harassment seriously.

She added that it would be a “straightforward step” for England’s regulator to make publishing the data a regulatory requirement.

A precedent might be set by education secretary Gavin Williamson’s recent letter to the Office for Students, which asked it to consider introducing mandatory reporting of antisemitic incidents because such data “would ensure a robust evidence base, which the OfS could then use to effectively regulate in this area”.

On sexual misconduct, an OfS spokesman said the regulator had “encourage[d] universities and colleges to review and evaluate their own approach and its impact on students, including analysing the numbers, types and context of reports they receive”.

“We will be looking at this issue as part of our work to understand how universities respond to our expectations over the next year,” the spokesman said.

anna.mckie@timeshighereducation.com

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Reader's comments (1)

Students who have been sexually assaulted or harassed should be taking the matter to the police. If the law has been broken, the police are the ones to deal with it - not the institution!

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