Universities are failing to cope with sexual assault cases, new research finds

Some 62 per cent of students are reporting experiences of sexual assault but only 2 per cent feel that their cases were dealt with appropriately 

March 2 2018
sexual violence at universities

Almost two thirds of UK students and graduates have experienced sexual violence while at university, according to new research by Revolt Sexual Assault in partnership with The Student Room.

The partnership launched the first national consultation for students and graduates on this issue in a decade to demonstrate the scale of the problem. 

Of the 4,500 students from 153 UK institutions, 62 per cent experienced sexual harassment while at university. When looking at gender differences, this figure increased to 70 per cent for female students, compared with 26 per cent of male respondents who had experienced sexual violence while at university.

However, just 2 per cent of respondents who had experienced sexual violence felt both able to report it to their university, and satisfied with the process. 

“The entire pastoral system is failing its student body. I had to go through months of meetings and emails, while trying to balance my studies with my deteriorating mental state, something which significantly impacted my grades”, said Bryony Chellew, a second-year student from the University of Bristol.

“Even after eight months, I had to revisit the assaults by having to relay them again, and still I was yet to receive the support that I needed,” she added.  

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The survey found that the most commonly experienced form of sexual assault was groping and unnecessary touching in a sexual manner. The most common locations on campus where students experienced sexual violence were halls of residence (28 per cent), social events (24 per cent) and university social spaces such as bars and shops (23 per cent). 

The survey also revealed that a third of respondents felt pressured into doing something sexual while at university. Just over half (51 per cent) of respondents believed that there was an understanding of what constituted consent at their university. 

In more than half of the cases (57 per cent), the perpetrator was known to the victim and in 75 per cent of cases it was a fellow student from their university, meaning that it was very likely that the student would encounter them on a regular basis. 

Students reported significant impacts to their self-confidence, mental health, studies, access to the local area and social life if they had experienced sexual assault of some kind. Some 25 per cent of the respondents had skipped lectures, or changed or had dropped out of certain modules to avoid the perpetrators and 16 per cent had suspended their studies or dropped out of their degree.

Only 16 per cent of students believed that sexual violence was regularly discussed at university and 10 per cent of those who had experienced sexual assault or harassment had reported their experience to their university or the police. 

When asked why they did not report the incident, 56 per cent of this cohort were convinced that it wasn’t “serious enough”, 35 per cent felt too ashamed and 29 per cent didn’t even know how to make a report to the university. 

However, respondents were also asked what their universities did well to tackle sexual violence on campus and many praised their institutions for reaching out to students very early on in the academic year and telling them about support services that they provided during freshers’ week. Respondents spoke highly of posters, flyers, awareness campaigns, and education classes for all genders on consent and bystander activism. 

Following these results, Hannah Price, the founder of Revolt Sexual Assault, said that she wants to see “a uniform national response to what now must be recognised as a nationwide issue – an enforced and consistent standard of care implemented across the higher education sector, with student survivors at its heart. For instance, universities need accessible reporting systems that minimise the distress caused to students, carried out by specially trained and independent staff”.

Revolt Sexual Assault is a national campaign fighting to give a voice to student survivors of sexual violence. Founded by recent graduates, the campaign first used Snapchat videos to give students a platform to tell their stories, using the app’s filters and voice obscuration software to give them a degree of anonymity. 

The Student Room is an online student form offering advice on universities and academic life for students. 

Read more: Sexual assault at universities: #itsrevolting


Reader's comments (1)

"However, just 2 per cent of respondents who had experienced sexual violence felt both able to report it to their university, and satisfied with the process." Just shocking. The ProtectED Code of Practice was developed to raise standards in student safety, security and wellbeing, and includes specific measures on student harassment and sexual assault. The problem is that universities are all doing different things to support students - standards vary widely, and for the prospective student, they have no way of identifying which universities take their duty of care to students seriously, or have appropriate support measures in place. ProtectED accreditation requires member universities to meet all measures set in the Code of Practice. This is assessed by trained assessors - an entirely confidential process. Member universities are also encouraged to work together on the problems affecting students' lives, to develop effective solutions and share good practice. We have an event at the House of Lords next month and are encouraging universities that want to lead the sector on addressing key safety and wellbeing issues, to attend: https://www.protect-ed.org/single-post/2018/02/26/ProtectED-seeks-Founder-Member-universities-to-lead-on-addressing-key-student-welfare-issues

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