Universities must do more to tackle sexual harassment on campus

Universities must do more to tackle sexual harassment on campus


Universities must do more to tackle sexual harassment on campus

Universities must do more to tackle sexual harassment on campus

Universities and colleges should take urgent action and do more to tackle sexual misconduct and harassment affecting students, the Office for Students (OfS) has said.

The OfS said all universities should have a process by which to report incidents and barriers to reporting incidents of sexual assault should be minimised. 

The regulator is calling on all providers to review their sexual misconduct and harassment policies, systems and procedures by the summer after 80 British universities were named on the Everyone’s Invited website, where students have been anonymously reporting incidents of sexual harassment, abuse, assault and misogyny. 

Some universities, including the University of Oxford, were mentioned more than 50 times.

The OfS said investigations into reported cases should be fair and set out behavioural expectations for students, staff and visitors. It also said all students who report cases of sexual assault should receive effective pastoral care. 

OfS chief executive Nicola Dandridge said, despite progress, there is still “a lack of consistent and effective systems, policies and procedures,” across the higher education sector. 

“As a result,” she said, “students continue to report worrying cases that have not been properly addressed by their university or college.”

On the OfS’s statement, Ms Dandridge added: “It is now for all universities and colleges registered with the OfS to put these principles into practice.

“Having the right processes is important. Students should feel confident reporting and disclosing incidents, knowing that they will be listened to and their reports will be dealt with appropriately.

“Staff need the right training to enable them to respond effectively and sensitively to disclosures and reports from students – if only to know to refer students on quickly to whoever is best placed to provide the right support.

“Good communication matters too. Universities and colleges need to explain clearly to students, staff and visitors what constitutes acceptable and unacceptable behaviour.

“By providing this clarity, as well as raising awareness of the nature and impact of harassment and sexual misconduct, they can help prevent harmful incidents.”

The watchdog will consider connecting this statement of expectations directly to the registration conditions for universities and colleges in future, but it is not formally connecting it to regulatory requirements in order to give institutions the “time and opportunity” to review their policies before the next academic year. 

On the statement of expectations, Education Secretary Gavin Williamson said: “We expect universities to follow these and I would urge all universities to look at this seriously and take appropriate action where necessary.

“No student or young person should ever have to experience abuse, and I urge anyone who feels they have been a victim of sexual harassment to speak to someone they trust, whether that be family, friends, their university or the police.”

Ms Dandridge said publishing the statement was a “major step” in making sure students feel safe. She “strongly urged” institutions to “grasp” the opportunity to make difference.

She said: “Over the next year we will examine how universities and colleges have responded. We will particularly want to hear from students and students’ unions that things are changing for the better.

“As part of this process, we will consider options for connecting the statement directly to our conditions of registration.

“Dealing effectively with harassment and sexual misconduct – wherever it may occur – will require action, commitment and collaboration.

“The result should be that meaningful support is provided to students when they need it, and that all incidents are dealt with effectively and sensitively. That is the least students should expect and we are determined to make sure they get it.”

The statement of expectations came just weeks after the Independent reported that some students were “scared” and “hesitant” to report sexual assaults that happened outside of coronavirus regulations.

Universities across the UK have introduced disciplinary measures for students breaking coronavirus rules.

Students have been warned they could face fines for flouting regulations – and even be excluded in the most extreme cases.

Campaigners urged universities to actively reassure and inform students that they would not be disciplined for any Covid-19 breaches that come to light when reporting assaults.

Additional reporting by Press Association


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