‘Epidemic’ Levels of Sexual Harassment at UK Universities

A recent survey has uncovered that over half of the university student population in the UK have experienced unwanted sexual behaviour – ranging from undesired sexual messages to rape.

The survey, carried out by charity organisation Brook and student database Dig-In, interviewed over 5,500 students and discovered that only a small percentage of these students actually reported these incidents.

Many of the students interviewed were dubious as to what exactly constitutes as sexual harassment and violent sexual acts, with only 8% having reported past incidents. A meagre 15% of those questioned understood that unwanted sexual behaviour is regarded as sexual harassment – a criminal offence.

Alarmingly, 56% of those who have experienced unwanted sexual behaviour disclosed that the perpetrator was indeed a fellow student. Unsurprisingly, women were far more likely to experience unwanted sexual behaviour compared to men.

3% of reported incidents were from men who expressed that they had been inappropriately touched – a much lower number, however, this should not be disregarded.

Furthermore, according to the Crime Survey for England and Wales (CSEW) 20% of women and 4% of men have experienced some kind of sexual assault since the age of 16. This is equivalent to 3.4 million female victims and 631,000 male victims. These figures are only according to reported cases, a disconcerting 1 in 6 people will report these incidences.

Power dynamics between men and women is a significant reason as to why more women experience unwanted sexual behaviour, according to Stop Violence Against Women, a project run by The Advocates for Human Rights.

Women are more likely to receive unsolicited sexual behaviour precisely because men are more likely to hold positions of power, leaving women in more vulnerable and insecure positions.

It also is part of the reason why many people are averse to reporting unwanted sexual behaviour, as many are fearful of the potential re-victimisation that may occur, whether it be from the criminal justice system or ostracization from family members. A lack of reporting comes down to power imbalances, embarrassment and simply not realising that what had occurred was a crime in itself.

These statistics aren’t alien to further education establishments. Particular universities across the UK are implementing compulsory consent classes as part of their freshers week, including the world-renowned Oxbridge.

This is due to ‘epidemic’ levels of harassment in British universities, suggesting there isn’t a correlation between academic intelligence and an understanding of consent.

These consent workshops are undoubtedly a step in the right direction, however only 49.8% of the population attend university and are able to attend such workshops.

Sexual harassment doesn’t occur singularly in universities. It is increasingly evident that consent classes need to start at a much earlier stage, as the complexity of consent is far more nuanced than simple binary answers.

The Department of Education have revised their sex and relationship guidance for the first time since 2000, to now include “consent classes” to pupils as young as four. Learning about respecting each other and enforcing the concept of personal boundaries to children is thought to improve their understanding.

These classes are to be taught up to secondary school level with age-appropriate classes. How effective these initiatives are is something only time will tell. For now, it is imperative that as much as possible is done to eliminate sexual harassment.

Image: [The Gryphon]