1 in 4 students sexually harassed or worse by academic staff – report
Four in 10 university students have experienced some sort of unwanted sexual advances by academic staff, ranging from sexual comments to rape, new research reveals.
According to a survey of 1,839 current and former students by the National Union of Students (NUS) and campaign organization 1752 Group, 41 percent reported being subjects of unwanted sexual advances from university staff.
The study, Power in the Academy: Staff Sexual Misconduct in UK Higher Education, warns that the sector is “not currently a safe environment,” especially as, the report notes, most of the perpetrators are academic staff with “power over students’ academic success, wellbeing and career” prospects.
Of the 1,535 respondents, 12 percent were found to have been touched in a sexual way that made them feel uncomfortable. Thirty-five current students and 30 ex-students said they had had non-consensual sexual contact, while a further 15 reported sexual assault and rape. Only a quarter of those who reported their abuse thought their institutions had done enough to prevent the harassment from reoccurring.
Hareem Ghani, NUS women’s officer, said: “For too long, these problems have been, at best, sidelined and, at worst, silenced by institutions. We need to talk about the open secrets that plague academia, to stop abuses of power wherever they happen.”
The damning research also found that women are not only twice more likely to be harassed than men, they are three times more likely to be negatively affected. One student from a top London art school told the Guardian she had attempted suicide after being bullied and groped by a female staff member.
Anna Bull, co-founder of the 1752 Group and senior lecturer at the University of Portsmouth, said: “This research draws attention to the extremely poor response of UK institutions to the sexual misconduct of their employees… institutions often do further harm to students who take the brave step of reporting such misconduct.
“There is no excuse for institutions not to act. It is particularly concerning that the majority of perpetrators of staff sexual misconduct appear to be academic staff, who, by the nature of their role, have power over students’ academic success, well-being and and career.”
Universities minister Sam Gyimah responded to the findings saying: “Violence and sexual harassment in any setting is completely unacceptable and victims should report cases to the police.
"The government expects universities to take a zero-tolerance approach to this abhorrent behaviour so that students feel confident and able to report what they have experienced,” Gyimah told the Guardian.
“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.”
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