Half of universities lack formal guidance on sex harassment

NUS study highlights shortcomings in policies and training to tackle ‘lad culture’

July 28, 2015
Man and woman seated, drinking alcohol
Source: Getty

Just half of universities have a formal policy on dealing with sexual harassment, a report for the National Union of Students has found.

The results from the NUS’ Lad Culture Audit Report reveal that many institutions are yet to develop policies that acknowledge or deter “lad culture” in universities.

According to the survey, only 51 per cent of universities have a formal policy on sexual harassment and only one in 10 had a policy that covers the display of sexist and discriminatory material.

The NUS says that this is in contrast to the presence of policies on equality and diversity and bullying and harassment, which were present for the majority of institutions.

One of the flaws within institutions that the Lad Culture Audit highlights is over the lack of formal complaints procedures. Some institutions advised victims to try and resolve matters “informally” first, forcing them to take responsibility for difficult situations instead of seeking help from the institution, the union says.

The NUS said that one institution’s HR handbook said: “Speaking to the person who is causing you distress is always an informal option and an approach preferred by many in delicate circumstances. This is because sometimes individuals are genuinely not aware of the offensive effect of their behaviour and will naturally stop when it is brought to their attention.”

The report also highlights what it says is the minimal existence of training in students’ unions around dealing with lad culture – which has been defined by the NUS in the past as a group or “pack” mentality residing in activities such as sport and heavy alcohol consumption, and “banter” which is often sexist, misogynist and homophobic.

According to the study, just 11 per cent of students’ unions provide training about lad culture and 32 per cent provide sexual consent workshops. It says that it is even less of a consideration in institutions with just six per cent counting issues of sexual consent as part of the curriculum.

Susuana Amoah, NUS women’s officer, said: “We, the student movement and society as a whole, are no longer in a position where we can continue to allow the issues women face on campuses across the UK and beyond to be ignored.

“In order to really challenge this issue and change it, we need the education community, as a whole, to get behind us and support us in embedding a framework that will not just deal with these issues, but actually stop them from happening.”

The NUS said that the deficiency in training, support, and provision across institutions and students’ unions has brought to light the need for a new national framework to aid those affected by sexual violence and harassment. 

Following the report, nine students’ unions have volunteered to take part in a pilot scheme where they will work with the NUS to build a Lad Culture Strategy to share with other unions, NUS staff and representatives.

Alison Phipps, director of gender studies and reader in sociology at the University of Sussex, said: “This audit has been a fantastic tool in helping students’ unions to understand these problems, how they are being dealt with on their campuses and what more needs to be done.

“I hope that Universities UK and other relevant organisations will meet us in our efforts, specifically through pressuring more universities to take action at institutional levels.”

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