Sexual harassment, gender-based misconduct and violence perpetrated by university staff in the UK has hit “epidemic” levels, according to a media report. Freedom of information (FoI) requests by the Guardian newspaper sent to 120 universities, including the prestigious Oxford University, found that students made at least 169 such allegations against academic and non-academic staff from 2011-12 to 2016-17. At least another 127 allegations about staff were made by fellow colleagues.
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“Sexual harassment of students by staff members has reached epidemic levels in British universities. Most universities have no effective mechanism to stop staff from pressuring students into sexual relationships, and when it happens, any sort of disciplinary action is pretty much non-existent,” Ann Olivarius, senior partner at the law firm McAllister Olivarius was quoted as saying by the newspaper.
Oxford University reported the highest number of allegations against staff by students, with 11 received by its central administration and 10 by colleges – though it said there may have been duplication between college and central administration figures. It was followed by Nottingham University with 10, Edinburgh University with nine, University of the Arts London (UAL) and Essex with seven and Cambridge University with at least six.
A University of Oxford spokesperson said: “A wide-ranging campaign across the university in recent years has made clear that sexual assault and harassment, whether by staff or students, will not be tolerated anywhere at Oxford.” “We see the number of students now coming forward to disclose or report incidents as reflecting the progress made,” he said.
According to the ‘Guardian’ analysis, Oxford University also had the most staff-on-staff allegations, with 17 recorded centrally and three by colleges – though again, there may be duplication. Next was Cambridge University with at least seven, Portsmouth University with six, and Exeter University, York University and London School of Economics (LSE) with five each.
Of the cases disclosed in response to FoI requests, 136 staff-on-student cases were investigated by universities. A vast majority were investigated internally and only a small number were investigated by police. The pro-vice-chancellor for education at the University of Cambridge, Prof Graham Virgo, said: “It is a very significant challenge for people to disclose sexual misconduct or harassment; as a result we have designed the procedure with student choice at its heart, so students can choose for their complaint to be heard in a way that suits them.”
Stephen Marshall, university secretary and registrar at UAL, said: “There is no place for sexual harassment or gender-based violence at UAL. We are already working hard to improve how we handle and prevent incidents of harassment.” A University of Nottingham spokesperson said: “There have been no such allegations from students, relating to university staff, in the past three years and less than 10 incidents in the two years prior to this.”
“Similarly with regards (to) allegations of staff from staff there have been less than 10 allegations in the last five years. Clearly our range of initiatives and policies around this issue is helping to drive this message home,” the Spokesperson said.
A University of Edinburgh spokesperson said: “We recognise that, on occasion, there will be legitimate complaints that individuals wish to raise and we actively encourage the reporting of concerns and maintain an effective complaints procedure for that purpose.” “We have a zero-tolerance policy regarding sexual harassment and have robust procedures in place for students and staff to report instances of sexual harassment,” a spokesperson of the University of Essex said.