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A new report published by the NUS in the wake of the #metoo movement investigates sexual misconduct in Higher Education institutions. The results make for sobering reading and shows how far universities have to go to foster an inclusive and safe environment for all students.

The report claims that “casual misconduct, harassment and sexism at universities are rife”. 

Students’ welfare is our number one priority, so we want to understand this issue and work with the university to combat it. 

Key findings

  • Four in ten respondents of the 1,839 students that participated had experienced at least one instance .of sexualised behaviour from staff, and one in eight had been made to feel uncomfortable by a staff member touching them.
  • 65 of the survey respondents had suffered non-consensual sexual contact from a staff member, and 15 had been sexually assaulted or raped.
  • Women are much more likely than men to both have experienced misconduct, and to have suffered greater consequences because of it. The data also suggests that LGBT+ participants, and LGBT+ women, in particular, were even more likely to have experienced misconduct.
  • The report found that universities are failing in their response to staff sexual misconduct. Of those respondents who reported misconduct to their institution, the vast majority had a negative experience.
  • Sexual misconduct has serious impacts on students’ mental health, learning, and future career prospects. For example, of those respondents who experienced sexual misconduct, a fifth of women reported losing confidence in themselves; just under a fifth experienced mental health problems, 16% reported avoiding going to certain parts of campus, and 13% felt unable to fulfil work roles at their institution.

What is the Union doing about it?

  • For a number of years, we have been delivering an Active Bystander workshop to departments of UCL who have pledged to have a zero-tolerance policy to sexual misconduct. This will now include content on staff-student sexual misconduct, so that students feel confident that they can deal with it appropriately should they encounter it.
  • In October 2017 the university created the Preventing Sexual Misconduct Strategy Group. We will be calling for a student facing strategy so that this issue is transparent and students are given the information that they need to challenge these behaviours.
  • The university has committed to piloting a new online portal for reporting misconduct with anonymity if the person wants it. We advocate the panel giving careful thought to this system, as there are a number of issues relating to this idea, for example:
  • This way of reporting may give people who fear repercussions the confidence to come forward. However:
    • If someone submits a complaint anonymously, this may make it hard for it to be used in a disciplinary process.
    • The University of Sussex recently reviewed its staff sexual misconduct policies after a serious case and made a number of suggestions which we endorse, including that:
  • Anyone who comes forward with an experience of abuse or harassment will be offered a meeting with a senior manager at the university.
  • The university will update its disciplinary procedures and make clear the timing of actions in the event of on-going criminal justice proceedings.
  • Information on this subject should be easily accessible on the university website. Digital tools should be available to allow students to report complaints.

What you can do about it

  • We want this issue to be discussed in an open and frank way so please start conversations about this or contact the Union if you want to discuss ways to tackle this problem.
  • Read the full report if you want to get more information on the study.
  • If you have been a victim of sexual misconduct or would like to report an incident that you have witnessed, please contact our Student Advice Service who will be able to advise on the best course of action.
  • If you have any questions about this blog, please contact Community Change Coordinator, Ben Westlake - b.westlake@ucl.ac.uk