In the past year, major campaigns like #MeToo and #TimesUp have worked hard to expose sexual harassment, assault, and misconduct in a variety of places, from charity sectors and corporate workplaces to the creative industries. Unfortunately, universities are counted among them.
A report collaborated on by NUS and The 1752 Group called ‘Power in the academy: staff student-sexual misconduct in UK higher Education’ has revealed how widespread the issue is within universities, and includes key information about the power dynamics that exist between staff and students in higher education which are specific to this setting.
Building on the work of Madeline Colledge, last year’s Postgraduate Education Officer, in response to the NUS report, we are launching our own research to look at the prevalence of staff / student sexual misconduct at UEA.
The national picture
NUS’s research found that four in ten respondents had experienced at least one instance of sexualised behaviour by staff. While it is important to distinguish between incidents of sexual harassment and less common incidents of sexual assault, it is equally important to understand that these incidents exist in a continuum of sexual violence where one cannot be tackled separately from the other.
NUS found that LGBT+ students and postgraduate women were the two groups most likely to experience sexualised behaviour from staff. Female postgraduates were much more likely to indicate they had experienced sexualised behaviours than female undergraduates, and this statistic increases again when isolating PGR female students specifically. For example, incidents of staff members attempting to draw students into discussions about sex was reported by 29.9% of women PhD students, 7.9% of women master’s students, and 7.1% of women undergraduates.
More alarmingly, many who are brave enough to report it are often left feeling like their case has been mishandled and there is a perception that the perpetrator remains repellent to any consequences. Many who have fought diligently to tackle sexual assault and harassment on university campuses have also faced abuse for speaking up themselves.
What should be done?
Universities have a duty of care towards their students, and UEA is no different. Students are dependent on academics for educational support, especially in the case of PhD students who often rely on academics for funding and employment opportunities. Should a member of university staff wish to take advantage of their position, it is difficult for students to prove misconduct has occurred in the absence of university policy which indicates that crossing such boundaries is prohibited. Further to this, students often fear future reprisal from others in their school if they did try to come forward. Having a procedure would send a message that such behaviour is Never OK.
Our survey does not act as a reporting device, but instead a measure of how prevalent such misconduct is on campus. We hope to use the results to inform University HR while they develop a staff-student relationship policy, and to educate staff as to the nature of misconduct issues at UEA.
The survey is available for both students and staff to complete because the issue also resides in the proliferation of sexualised behaviour from staff member to staff member. We want students to complete the survey so that we can understand the student experience, but we also want to know what university staff witness and experience themselves, including whether they have ever experienced an attempt from another staff member to co-opt them into the culture.
I encourage anyone who has been affected by this issue at UEA to take part in our survey to help us to create better policy and protection for the future: Go straight to the survey here. We assure you that the confidentiality of your response and your anonymity are guaranteed if you decide to take part in the survey. Full details on anonymity and the reporting of the data can be found here.
If you would like to formally report an experience of sexual misconduct, you can do so via the Never OK reporting form: https://portal.uea.ac.uk/neverok/report-it/reporting-form.
If you need any support or have been affected by any of the content in this blog post then please use any of the contacts below.
- Advice(su): email@example.com, 01603 593463
- Campus Security: 01603 592222 or 01603 592352
- Leeway: 0300 561 0077
- The Harbour Centre: 01603 276381
- Student Support Services: 01603 592761
- The Police: 999
- UEA Medical Centre: 01603 251600.
For more information about the survey or if you have any questions about the above, please do get in contact: firstname.lastname@example.org
Georgina Burchell, Welfare, Community & Diversity Officer. Co-signed by Martin Marko, Postgraduate Education Officer.