Sexual harassment
A UUK survey sheds light on what UK universities are doing to tackle sexual harassment or assault on campus. Source: Shutterstock

Universities across the UK are making good progress in tackling sexual harassment. 

A survey by Universities UK (UUK) has found that nearly two-thirds (65 percent) of universities have introduced consent training to their students.

Almost 100 universities were surveyed as a follow-up to its harassment and hate crime taskforce (Changing the Culture), which explores how institutions are addressing some of the challenges raised and are acting on its recommendations.

The research found that universities including Edinburgh, Kent, Durham, Oxford and SOAS, University of London conducted consent training for students. These classes taught students how to seek consent before sexual encounters, how to recognise consent and how to identify situations where consent cannot be given. 

The sessions formed a mandatory part of freshers’ week at some universities.

For instance, Durham University offers a course called Consent Matters, an “online course covering the areas of sexual consent, communication and relationships, and bystander intervention”. The course takes about an hour to complete.

The University of Edinburgh has talks, videos and workshops for students covering topics relating to sexual violence and sexual assault. 

Complaints about sexual harassment in universities are rife; one BBC investigation found that universities had received more than 700 allegations of sexual misconduct during the last academic year. Students “had to go through ‘traumatic’ and lengthy complaints procedures, with one saying she ‘felt like the one on trial’ and another calling it ‘a waste of time’.”

Students who have faced assault or harassment by classmates or staff have had to move accommodation, avoid attending certain tutorials and even dropped out of a course while their perpetrators carried on with their normal lives, according to The Times.

Key findings from responses to the UUK survey

  • 81 percent have updated their discipline procedures, with 53 percent introducing or making additions to the student code of conduct
  • 81 percent improved support for reporting students and 67 percent improved support for responding students
  • 78 percent provided students with clear information on how to report an incident
  • 72 percent developed or improved recording of data on incidents with a more centralised approach
  • Over a third reported recruiting new staff to respond to the recommendations in Changing the Culture

Still a long way to go in tackling sexual harassment and hate crime

Sexual harassment

Universities must also address other forms of harassment, including racial and hate crimes. Source: Shutterstock

UUK said that while there has been progress in responding to sexual harassment and gender-based violence in universities, less priority has been afforded to tackling other forms of harassment including racial harassment and other forms of hate crime.

Professor Julia Buckingham CBE, UUK President and Vice-Chancellor of Brunel University, said: “The higher education sector recognises its shared responsibility to eliminating hate crime, which is unacceptable in our society, and in our universities. 

“We particularly welcome actions taken by universities in addressing some of the issues and steps highlighted in our Changing the Culture report. However, it is clear that there is a long way to go in ending harassment and hate crime for good in higher education.

“While it is understandable that there has been a particular focus on addressing gender-based violence, it is time for us to step-up and make sure the same priority status and resourcing is given to addressing all forms of harassment and hate.”

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