“Shocking” levels of sexual harassment claims uncovered in UK universities

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Sarah Biddlecombe
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A “shocking” level of sexual harassment, misconduct and gender violence claims have been made against staff working in UK universities.

An investigation by The Guardian uncovered at least 169 allegations made against both academic and non-academic staff between 2011-2012 and 2016-2017, as well as a further 127 allegations about staff made by their colleagues.

The paper uncovered the figures using Freedom of Information (FoI) requests sent to 120 universities in the country, but the report also disclosed that “scores of alleged victims” said they were “dissuaded from making official complaints”. Others never reported their harassment at all.

This has led to fears that the actual level of sexual harassment in universities is likely to be much higher.

“These numbers are shocking, but sadly, from our experience, are just the tip of the iceberg,” Dr Ann Olivarius, a senior partner at the law firm McAllister Olivarius, told The Guardian.

“Sexual harassment of students by staff members has reached epidemic levels in British universities. Most universities have no effective mechanism to stop staff from pressuring students into sexual relationships, and when it happens, any sort of disciplinary action is pretty much nonexistent.”

Speaking about the findings, Anna Bull, co-founder of the 1752 Group, which was launched to tackle sexual harassment in higher education, added, “There is evidence to suggest that the actual figures in the UK will be staggering.”

The figures uncovered by the paper showed students at Oxford University had made the most allegations against staff, with 11 taken by central administration and 10 by individual colleges (although duplication could have occurred between the two).

Second was Nottingham University (10), followed by Edinburgh (nine), University of the Arts London and Essex (seven) and then Cambridge (six).

In terms of allegations made by staff members themselves, Oxford was highest yet again, with 17 taken by central administration and three by colleges (again, duplication was possible). This was followed by Cambridge (seven), Portsmouth (six), then Exeter, York and LSE (five).

Out of the 120 universities included in the report, only five had given compensation to affected students. Goldsmiths, University of London, had paid the highest amount (£192,146), while UAL had paid around £64,000 to two students.

“Young women are often terrified about the consequences if they make a complaint about a staff member,”  Dr Olivarius added.

“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.”

If you, or anyone you know, needs help regarding sexual harassment, you can contact Rape Crisis here or the 1752 Group here


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Sarah Biddlecombe

Sarah Biddlecombe is an award-winning journalist and Digital Commissioning Editor at Stylist. Follow her on Twitter