Sexual harassment ‘at epidemic levels’ in UK universities

By Jennifer Constable, Editor-in-Chief (@Peculiar_Jenny)

A recent study has found that sexual violence and misconduct by university staff has reached ‘epidemic proportions’ within the United Kingdom.

The Guardian Investigation found that out of the 120 universities that were sent freedom of information requests, at least 169 allegations were made by students against both academic and non-academic staff. A further 127 allegations were made by staff.

Speaking with the Guardian, the victims spoke of how they were “dissuaded from making official complaints”, and either withdrew their allegation or made do with an informal settlement, which other neglected to speak of their assault, for fear it would damage their academic and career prospects.

This evidence suggests that the problem may be far greater than statistics show, as a portion of incidents go unreported.

On the topic of sexual assault in universities, Honors Student, Lauren McDougall claims that “I feel like it’s probably happening even more than we actually realise, because people are being discouraged from coming forward to talk about their experiences as universities seem to spend more time and effort trying to disprove instances of sexual violence than actually acknowledging and tackling the problem.”

The majority of universities in the UK lack an effective system that stops university staff forcing their students into sexual relationships, and where they do, they often fail to exercise the appropriate disciplinary procedures.

Vice President Diversity at the University of Strathclyde, Simran Kaur, comments on The Guardian’s findings, stating, “It is in the best interest of universities to protect their reputation, which means that when a member of staff is sexually violent towards a student, the welfare of the student comes second. Students are concerned if they were to make an allegation against someone who is grading their coursework or exams, this can be detrimental to their grades.

“Moreover, non-disclosure agreements mean that staff who are perpetrators are allowed to teach at other universities, which shows that the sector is failing to support students. However, the NUS in partnership with the 1752 group is doing groundbreaking research into this issue. Following this, I hope to see huge changes made in the sector to finally address this problem.”

Oxford University reported the highest number of abuse claims by students against staff, followed by Nottingham and then Edinburgh. Only five of the universities under investigation reported having compensated their students.

“We have worked with the university to create an online incident reporting system, where staff and students can chose what action they wish the university to take”, Kaur asserts, “Alternatively, students can speak to the advice hub ( or Nightline which is a confidential telephone and online listening and information service (Call Nightline on 0141 55 22 555 or text  07982 107 920 7pm to 7am, Mon to Fri).”