In the wake of the #MeToo movement, universities are amongst the many organisations being asked if they are doing enough to prevent sexual assault, and to support victims of sexual misconduct.
Here at Newcastle, the It Happens Here Society aims to educate students on issues of consent, give sexual assault survivors a safe place to discuss their experiences, and advise victims of how they can report sexual violence.
Universities are encouraged to publish statistics on sexual assault on and around campus, including information on how alleged victims were supported, and how allegations were handled.
With regards to Newcastle University, it is difficult to find university approved figures on reported cases of sexual misconduct, despite a Courier article, published in October 2017, alleging that a report by Universities UK Taskforce found that 17% of Newcastle students had been victims of sexual misconduct during Fresher’s week. A further 29% claimed to have witnessed another student being sexually harassed during Fresher’s.
When one does an online search for statistics on sexual misconduct at Newcastle University, one of the top hits is Newcastle University Student Union’s ‘Report and Support’ page, which aims to encourage students to report any bullying or abuse experienced on campus. Part of the page is dedicated to reporting sexual harassment. The page includes information on how to report sexual misconduct to both the police and university authorities, as well as information about local counselling services that support victims.
Unlike other UK universities, there is little evidence of Newcastle helping fund charities and support services for victims of rape and sexual assault. However, it should be remembered that the university offers numerous counselling services for victims, and does encourage students to contact external sources of help, such as Rape Crisis.
In terms of preventing sexual assault, universities have recently been encouraged to make educational talks on consent mandatory for incoming Fresher’s. The movement was led by Durham, Oxford and Cambridge, with Durham making workshops on consent compulsory back in 2015. Newcastle followed suite as of 2017, after 82% of the Student Council voted in favour of making the talks compulsory.
These talks are said to educate students on what exactly constitutes sexual consent, and outline the consequences of sexual assault in a way that aims to deter them from becoming perpetrators.
Georgia Corbett, the president of It Happens Here, still thinks that there is progress to be made.
"I think the most important thing I want to say is that no one is doing enough. The idea of enough means we are reaching goals and people are getting the support they need. That is still not the reality. Only 1.7% of reported tapes get prosecuted and a vast majority don't report anyway. The university is doing things slowly and I am hopeful that the passion I've seen among staff will translate into positive change but this is a cultural issue and a big one, and Newcastle university is still not supporting the vast numbers of survivors, but with the new year comes new developments and I do believe attempts are being made."
If you have been affected by sexual assault or misconduct, remember that help is always available. You can contact Rape Crisis’ national helpline on 0808 802 9999, any day of the year, between 12.00 and 14.30 and 19.00 – 21.30.