News Jun 5th 2015

Sexual Violence Remains Unspotted by Top UK Universities. Victims Decide to Speak Out

Statistics show that fewer than half of Russell Group universities invest efforts and resources in monitoring the degree of sexual violence students experience in their campuses. According to the research report published at the Hidden Marks website, founded by the National Union of Students, 1 in 7 of the surveyed women students had been victims to serious sexual or physical violence (sexual assault, physical violence, stalking, sexual harassment, and domestic violence from an intimate partner).

One in five elite universities of the Russell Group (including Cardiff, Leeds, Manchester and Liverpool) have not established clear guidelines that would enable students to report violence formally or in confidence. The concerning fact that seven universities of this Group do not record the allegations of sexual harassment, rapes and assaults raised a public debate.
campus violence

Students Speak About Violence in UK Universities

The issue about sexual offences in British universities has been highlighted upon the statements of women students who decided to inform the public about the hidden reality. Ione Wells, an Oxford University student, wrote an open letter to the unknown man who sexually assaulted her, and started the #NotGuilty campaign with the goal to enable people to share their experiences and establish a supporting community. Since Ione's letter was featured 4 weeks ago, the NotGuilty website published several other statements by people who decided to share their opinions and experiences. The campaign encourages individuals to get help after an assault.

“Community is a force we all underestimate,” – writes Ione in her letter. “Each individual we know and care about may take up no more than a few seconds of each day, but they make up a huge proportion of our lives… Our community is embedded in our psyche. You, my attacker, have not proved any weakness in me, or my actions, but only demonstrated the solidarity of humanity.”

Elizabeth Ramey, a former student at Oxford University, launched a legal challenge against the policy of this institution on addressing complaints of sexual assault. She claims that the university failed to investigate the allegation and take action against the offender. The End Violence Against Women Coalition and the Equality and Human Rights Commission supported Ramey's case.

According to Elizabeth's lawyers, Oxford University's policies and procedures enabled the institution to avoid serious investigation upon most allegations of sexual assault. Nevertheless, earlier this month, the high court did not give permission for bringing a full judicial review challenge.

Raising Awareness

If universities realize the importance of recording allegations, many other victims of violence would be encouraged to come out with their experiences, and the institutions would be able to provide appropriate support. Dianne Whitfield, an officer at Crasac (Coventry Rape and Sexual Abuse Centre) said that without records, we cannot be aware of the gravity of this problem. “If you do not have trained staff and clear reporting routes, how do you know?” – said Whitfield.

According to rape crisis groups from university towns, the figures reported by some universities are a serious underestimation of the level of sexual violence that occurs on campuses. The NUS 2010 report shows that 2% of the respondents to the survey had experienced attempted rape, and 5% had been raped. The student union can offer support to the victims by directing them to the most relevant service or person. Alternatively, the victims are advised to contact the president of their student union, the Women's Officer or the Welfare Officer.

According to Dianne Whitfield, many students who decide to speak to their universities about these issues don't get the needed support. They are instructed to go to the police, but they are rarely ready to take such action.

Unlike US educational institutions, British universities do not have legal duties to record sexual violence. Thus, they rarely invest enough resources in terms of supporting the victims, and there is no strategy about targeting these problems.

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