First ever national survey launched to investigate staff sexual misconduct in higher education
Today the National Union of Students and The 1752 Group launch the first ever national survey in the UK looking at staff sexual misconduct in higher education.
Recent high profile media reports of higher education staff abusing their positions of power, and universities failing to protect their students, have led to calls for the sector to improve their practice in this area. However, change is inhibited by a lack of research and data, as the most recent research in the UK is from the 1990s. While the Association of American Universities and Universities Australia have both included staff sexual misconduct in their recent reports, no equivalent study has been carried out in the UK.
The new survey, for all current students, as well as ex-students who have experienced sexual misconduct, will be launched today by the NUS and The 1752 Group. The survey will ask students about whether they have ever experienced or witnessed sexual misconduct from higher education staff and their experience of reporting such behaviours to their institution. The survey, along with student focus groups, will also explore professional boundaries, by examining the types of behaviour students are comfortable with from higher education staff. This work is particularly urgent in light of The Guardian’s recent finding that one-third of UK universities do not have a policy on staff-student relationships. The findings will be released in February.
This survey is the result of a collaboration between NUS Women’s Campaign and The 1752 Group, a non-profit research and lobby organisation, who specialise in addressing sexual misconduct and harassment by higher education staff.
Hareem Ghani, NUS Women’s Officer said:
“As it currently stands, many institutions are ill-equipped to deal with instances of student-staff harassment (or indeed, harassment in general). A lack of research in the area, combined with a lack of understanding has meant that many universities do not have basic guidelines on this issue. There is a still a long way for us to go, but I am proud that the Women’s Campaign and The 1752 Group are taking a lead on this pertinent issue. For too long, these problems have been at best sidelined and at worst silenced by institutions. We need to talk about the open secrets that plague academia, to challenge cultures of entitlement and stop abuses of power wherever they happen.”
Dr Anna Bull, co-founder of The 1752 Group and lecturer in sociology at The University of Portsmouth, said:
“The 1752 Group are delighted that the National Union of Students Women’s campaign are working with us on the challenge of providing much-needed data about staff-student sexual misconduct. Evidence from the US shows that one in six female postgraduate students experience sexual harassment or abuse from university staff, and we have worked on numerous cases in institutions across the UK that show students being failed by their institutions when they try to report sexual misconduct. Universities do not currently have adequate procedures in place to protect students and deal with perpetrators, and students find themselves powerless to do anything about staff who abuse their position.
At a time when the world is waking up to the ways in which sexual harassment and abuse are endemic across many institutions, it is time for the higher education sector to take this issue seriously. We hope that this research will lead the way towards these much-needed changes”.
The NUS are asking all current UK students, or any former students who have experienced sexual misconduct from UK university staff, to fill out the survey here. It will be open until December 15th, 2017.
Hareem Ghani and Anna Bull are available for comment
The National Union of Students is a voluntary membership organisation which makes a real difference to the lives of students and its member students’ unions.
We are a confederation of 600 students’ unions, amounting to more than 95 per cent of all higher and further education unions in the UK. Through our member students’ unions, we represent the interests of more than seven million students. We promote, defend and extend the rights of students and develop and champion strong students’ unions.
The 1752 Group is a research and lobby organisation that tackles staff-student sexual misconduct in higher education on a national level. We believe that staff-student sexual misconduct is a systemic problem in academia and for sustainable reform, cultural change and policy overhaul is needed, requiring engagement right from the students to the provosts in universities. We are research-led, currently running a HEFCE-funded project to audit current harassment policies in UK universities and carrying out interviews with students who have experienced staff sexual misconduct. We are working with the UK’s premier law firm in this area, McAllister Olivarius, to draft robust codes of conduct and fair and streamlined grievance procedures, for national dissemination in partnership with Universities UK.
Australian Human Rights Commission, 2017. Change The Course: National Report on Sexual Assault and Sexual Harassment at Australian Universities. Australian Human Rights Commission, Sydney.
Batty, D., Weale, S., 2016. Sexual harassment at university: “I felt terrified to say anything.” The Guardian.
Batty, D., Bengtsson, H., Holder, J., Batty, D., Bengtsson, H., Holder, J., n.d. Sexual harassment allegations: find figures for UK universities. The Guardian.
Cantor, D., Fisher, B., Chibnall, S., Townsend, R., Lee, H., Bruce, C., Thomas, G., 2015. Report on the AAU campus Climate Survey on Sexual Assault and Sexual Misconduct. Association of American Universities.
Pells, R., 2016. Sussex University stuck by senior lecturer who beat up student girlfriend. The Independent.
Weale, S., Bannock, C., 2016. “I was so traumatised”: accounts of sexual harassment in UK universities. The Guardian.