Thursday 20 October 2016
A report published tomorrow on violence against women in universities has put staff-student sexual harassment on the agenda, amidst growing calls for the sector to tackle this problem.
Last year the government asked Universities UK to lead a taskforce on violence against women, harassment and hate crime in universities. The final report will be publicly released tomorrow. The 1752 Group, an organisation working to combat staff-student sexual harassment in UK universities, made a submission to the taskforce urging it to address staff-student harassment. Recent coverage of staff-student sexual harassment in the Guardian compared the scale of sexual abuse in universities to the Savile scandals.
The report does not make recommendations to universities on staff-student sexual harassment but highlights it as an area that requires further work. Spokesperson for The 1752 Group Dr Anna Bull said “in this report, Universities UK indicates that staff-student sexual harassment is a significant issue which must be addressed by the sector. We formed The 1752 Group because of the lack of robust research and policy guidance around staff-student sexual harassment. This makes our work more important than ever. We welcome the report’s recommendations on leadership from senior management, partnership working, training for university staff, and more robust centralised reporting procedures.
“We look forward to working with UUK and the sector more widely to address staff-student sexual harassment in the coming months and years. This is a sector-wide problem, which needs a sector-wide solution. This report is the first step in opening up discussions towards such an approach.”
Dr Ann Olivarius, Senior Partner at McAllister Olivarius, a law firm that represents people who have been sexually harassed in the US and UK, said: “We are encouraged to see staff-student sexual harassment on the agenda and hope now the much needed work in this area can begin. Most universities have no effective mechanism to stop staff (or students) from pressuring students into sexual relationships and when it happens, any sort of disciplinary action is pretty much non-existent.
“Academics face few penalties for pressuring their students for sex. Those in charge of faculty discipline are often colleagues who have many incentives not to intervene. Until there are mechanisms for trying to reduce harassment, and penalizing those who do it, the problem will continue.
“Despite the increasing pressure on universities to curb a rise in on-campus assaults and improve their safeguarding policies, young women are nevertheless often terrified about the consequences if they make a complaint, particularly about a staff member. So often when they do, the university’s chief concern is to downplay any wrongdoing and protect its own reputation by keeping the whole thing quiet.
“More needs to be done to protect women at British universities. They need to be encouraged to report assault and harassment. In the US, universities are obligated to investigate any such claims under federal law, regardless of any criminal investigation.”
This report comes as universities in Australia and the US are also coming under pressure to address this issue. A recent Freedom of Information request across Australian universities found that the vast majority of reported rape and harassment cases appear to have gone completely unpunished. It also found that as many as one in five cases may involve staff members committing sexual offences against students (Funnell, 2016). In the US, a large-scale study from 2015 revealed that one in six female graduate students have experienced sexual harassment from a teacher or advisor (Cantor et al., 2015). In the UK, there does not exist any comparable data, which highlights the urgent need for research in this area.
The 1752 Group will continue to work with students’ unions on prevention and responses to staff-student sexual harassment in higher education. We are keen to hear from universities who would like to work with us and lead the sector on this issue.
Dr Anna Bull from The 1752 Group is available for phone interviews on 07960911827 before 12pm, from 2-3pm and after 5pm on Thursday 20 October, or any time on Friday 21 October.
‘Business Secretary Calls on Universities to Tackle Violence against Women on Campus – Press Releases – GOV.UK’. 2016. Accessed October 16. https://www.gov.uk/government/news/business-secretary-calls-on-universities-to-tackle-violence-against-women-on-campus.
Cantor, David, Bonnie Fisher, Susan Chibnall, Reanne Townsend, Hynshik Lee, Carol Bruce, and Gail Thomas. 2015. ‘Report on the AAU Campus Climate Survey on Sexual Assault and Sexual Misconduct’. Association of American Universities. https://www.aau.edu/uploadedFiles/AAU_Publications/AAU_Reports/Sexual_Assault_Campus_Survey/AAU_Campus_Climate_Survey_12_14_15.pdf.
Funnell, Nina. 2016. ‘Full List of Universities Exposed by Sexual Assault Investigation’. NewsComAu, October 9. http://www.news.com.au/lifestyle/real-life/true-stories/full-list-of-universities-exposed-by-sexual-assault-investigation/news-story/f7c39dcacce8a9c839bc8b881172173b.
Weale, Sally, and Caroline Bannock. 2016. ‘“I Was So Traumatised”: Accounts of Sexual Harassment in UK Universities’. The Guardian, October 7, sec. Education. https://www.theguardian.com/education/2016/oct/07/i-was-so-traumatised-accounts-of-sexual-harassment-in-uk-universities.
Weale, Sally, and David Batty. 2016a. ‘Sexual Harassment of Students by University Staff Hidden by Non-Disclosure Agreements’. The Guardian, August 26, sec. Education. https://www.theguardian.com/education/2016/aug/26/sexual-harassment-of-students-by-university-staff-hidden-by-non-disclosure-agreements.
———. 2016b. ‘Scale of Sexual Abuse in UK Universities Likened to Savile and Catholic Scandals’. The Guardian, October 7, sec. Society. https://www.theguardian.com/society/2016/oct/07/scale-of-sexual-abuse-in-uk-universities-likened-to-savile-and-catholic-scandals.