Recently-published findings reveal that 41% of university students across the UK have been the victims of sexual misconduct from members of university staff.
The survey was carried out by the National Union of Students (NUS) in cooperation with The 1752 Group, which campaigns against the concerning amount of staff-student sexual harassment in tertiary education institutions.
The study, titled “Power in the Academy: Staff Sexual Misconduct in UK Higher Education”, based its findings on evidence collected from 1839 current and former university students.
The study revealed that 41% of students have admitted to being recipients of unwelcomed sexual advances and assault, which include sexualised comments and innuendos, inappropriate touching, threats, and even cases of rape.
12% of current students reported being touched by a member of staff in a manner which they regarded as inappropriate, with twice as many women being victims than men.
A total of 65 students reported experiencing non-consensual sexual contact from university staff, including 15 students who were victims of sexual assault or rape.
Worryingly, the report shows that most of the perpetrators within universities are academic staff, which is particularly concerning when considering the immense amount of influence they yield over students’ academic success, wellbeing and career prospects.[pullquote]“It is unacceptable that higher education institutions, rather than enabling students to report staff sexual misconduct, are failing the vast majority of students who disclose.” - Dr Anna Bull, co-founder of the 1752 Group[/pullquote]
This could leave students vulnerable to such inappropriate behaviour, as students are reluctant to speak out and potentially jeopardise their academic success at university.
The report also addresses the universities’ failure to respond appropriately to the severity of the incidents. Less than 10% of the victims felt comfortable enough to report the incidents to their university, and among those who did so, more than half described their university’s response as inadequate, with some universities even blocking complaints.
Only 25% of those who reported cases of sexual misconduct commended their university’s proactive and preventative response. The study concludes by warning that the higher education sector is “not currently a safe environment”.
The report’s findings have led to outrage across the education sector.
Hareem Ghani, NUS Women’s Officer, said “these problems have been at best sidelined and at worst silenced by institutions”, describing how universities breed “cultures of entitlement” and “abuses of power”.
Universities Minister Sam Gyimah said: “The Government expects universities to take a zero-tolerance approach…so that students feel confident and able to report what they have experienced.
“Following the report…we have asked the higher education sector to do more and implement their recommendations.”
Co-founder of the 1752 Group Dr. Anna Bull said: “It is unacceptable that higher education institutions, rather than enabling students to report staff sexual misconduct, are failing the vast majority of students who disclose.”