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UK universities 'unsafe' as sexual misconduct by university staff is rife, study suggests

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A new report has found sexual misconduct on university campuses is rife, with students facing “sexualised touching, comments or even threats from staff members”.

The NUS Women's Campaign and the 1752 Group have carried out a survey examining staff-to-student sexual harrasment, ultimately warning how the sector is consequently “not currently a safe environment” for many students, based on the responses given.

Of the 1,839 students that took part in the survey, 41% reported incidents of 'sexual misconduct', a term used by the team behind the report to "draw attention to seemingly lower level, boundary-blurring behaviours by staff", while 12% said they had experienced being touched by a member of staff in a way that made them feel uncomfortable. 

Women respondents were more likely than men respondents to have experienced sexual misconduct from university staff, sometimes more than twice as likely. For example, 15.6% of women reported being touched by a staff member in a way that made them uncomfortable, compared to 7% of men. They were also more likely than men to report changing their behaviour as a result of misconduct, for instance, 15.5% reported avoiding going to certain parts of their campus.

The findings of this report, which showcase that sexual misconduct is not a rare occurence in individual universities, but a problem that is widespread across the country, is particularly important because the last staff-student misconduct study conducted in the UK was in 1995. Additionally, one in three institutions have no policies on student-staff relationships, indicating that more must be done to support students. 

The study gives a list of recommendations to improve the issues. These include:

  • Policies drawn up detailing what relationships are appropriate within higher education institutions.
  • The expected standards of professional behaviour between a staff member and student clearly listed along with a pathway for disclosure of problems.
  • Better support systems for students who report, including counselling support. 
  • Workshops on gender, power and consent for all faculty staff and students.
Universities minister Sam Gyimah said: “Following the report from Universities UK’s sexual violence and harassment taskforce, we have asked the higher education sector to do more and implement their recommendations. We must now ensure that the work of the taskforce goes onto make a real difference to students across the country.”

The report, titled 'Power in the academy: staff sexual misconduct in UK higher education' can be read by the public here

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