According to the survey 50% of female respondents had experienced sexual harassment as students, 42% of which revealed they had been assaulted, with groping and unwarranted touching being the most common experiences.
This unimaginable statistic is made worse when combined with estimates from the Office for National Statistics which reveals that currently, 4% of women nationally claim they have experienced rape with this number rising to 8% on UK university campuses, twice the national average.
Change the Culture’s main campaign challenge is to place pressure on the government to introduce legislative change that makes funds available to universities so that they can set up systems to care for victims of sexual assault and harassment and have the resources available to properly investigate complaints as well as introduce preventionary measures such as consent workshops to educate people and a visible security presence to deter assaulters.
Anonymous sexual assault and harassment reporting systems are an effective way of helping institutions gauge the level of the problems they face. In 2017, after a string of highly publicised cases of rape on their campus, Cambridge University introduced their own anonymous reporting system.
In the nine months following the introduction of the system, the university received 173 complaints of “improper behaviour” which they described as “a significant problem”. This gives a real figure to the the issue that’s been debated for years and the impact that it has on students cannot be underestimated.
According to the Revolt Sexual Assault and The Student Room report, many students feel unable to continue their studies due to a lack of self-confidence and experience a negative impact on their mental health and social life as consequences of assault. 25% of study respondents who had experienced sexual violence claimed they had skipped lectures and tutorials, or even dropped modules in order to avoid their assaulters. The most shocking statistic comes as it is revealed that 16% had dropped out of university altogether.
Introducing these systems unilaterally across the UK’s universities will help in keeping students on their degrees and feeling safe on campus. Based on figures from Rape Crisis England and Wales just 6% of students feel comfortable reporting their experiences to their university and only 2% feel both able to report and satisfied with the reporting process.
Alongside the anonymous reporting systems, Cambridge university introduced other measures as part of their Breaking the Silence initiative. The scheme involved introducing a dedicated website which features advice and help for victims of assault as well as hotlines to report both formally and anonymously. Information on how to be “an active bystander”, so that other students know how to help, as well as sexual consent workshops and other resources are made available so that they can educate themselves. The final part of their scheme involved adding a “toolkit for institutions”, providing help and advice on how other institutions can could set up their own initiatives.
A clear policy statement from the university was also released, making clear that “there is no place for any form of harassment or sexual misconduct at the University of Cambridge” and that they were “dedicated to creating and maintaining a safe, welcoming, inclusive and diverse community that nurtures a culture of mutual respect and consideration” so that all members of the University community are “able to thrive within their roles without fear of sexual violence, abuse, coercive behaviour or related misconduct”.
“The University will continuously work to improve the prevention, response, support and investigation of all instances of harassment and sexual misconduct; and to enable staff and students to make disclosures without fear of reprisal.” The universitity’s hope is that this system can “promote a culture of inclusivity, underpinned by mutual respect”
Change the Culture also spoke to Manchester City Council’s Lead for Women Cllr Sarah Judge on what can be done. She believes that the main focus for change should be education; “education of women on their rights and the challenges we face moving forward. Educating men on appropriate behaviour and consent. Because we need everyone on the same page and until we can treat men as allies rather than enemies, they will continue feel defensive and we will continue on this uphill struggle”.
Judge went on to talk generally about the issues that women face saying that female homelessness, unemployment, the gender pay gap, domestic abuse and sexual violence all stem from the Conservative government’s cuts which disproportionately effect women. Suggesting that the best way to overcome them is for women everywhere to “get involved in their local communities and make sure everyone has a voice”.
“One of the most simple ways to do that is to make sure that you are registered to vote and that you are taking part in that democratic process” because “until that happens, we are not going to see the type of legislative change that the people of this country actually want”.
Although it might not always be obvious, slowly but surely, progress is being made. Institutions like Cambridge University creating their own systems act as inspiration and precedent for others to follow suit and hopefully the future will be brighter for all.
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