Universities need to overhaul their approach to sexual assault and adopt a hands-on, zero-tolerance policy when dealing with these incidents, a new report has urged.
Under the current 1994 ‘Zellick’ guidelines, universities are advised not to investigate allegations of sexual violence or implement disciplinary procedures unless the victim has reported the crime to the police.
But the report by Universities UK said this is failing students and higher education institutions need to act every time an allegation of sexual assault is made.
The inquiry, carried out by a task force of student leaders, university staff and experts, was initiated following rising concerns from students about the prevalence of sex attacks on campus and how they are dealt with by universities.
Alice Irving, now a law lecturer at the University of Oxford, was a graduate student at the university when she was raped. When she reported the incident to the police, she was told it sounded like “sex with regrets”. She has since received a formal apology.
Speaking on the BBC’s Radio 4 Today programme,Irving emphasised the need for universities to take an active role in dealing with sexual assault.
“There are a number of reasons why somebody might not want to go through the criminal justice process, not least after the most recent Ched Evans trial and what happened there,” she said.
“We also know that conviction rates are really dismal in this area. For there to be other options for people to care for themselves after a trauma like this is really important.”
But whenIrving looked for support at her university, she discovered there was “little to nothing”.
While there are no official figures about the number of young women assaulted at university, a 2015 Telegraph survey reported that one in three undergraduate students had been the victim of violence or unwanted advances.
The new report suggests universities should develop a centralised reporting system for sexual violence, harassment and hate crimes and should offer students support, advice and assistance.
It also states that universities should clearly set out how they expect their students to behave and that an annual national conference should be held for the next three years to allow institutions to share good practice.
Nicola Dandridge, Chief Executive of Universities UK and chair of the task force, said: “The university sector has been clear that there is no place for sexual violence, harassment or hate crime on a university campus, nor anywhere else.
“The impact of any such incident on a student is so potentially serious that universities must be ready to respond effectively and proactively engage in prevention initiatives.
She added that while the issue is not “isolated” to higher education institutions, universities “have a significant role to play, and are in a position to lead the way in preventing and responding to violence against women, harassment and hate crime, beyond the boundaries of the university campus.”
Universities minister Jo Johnson said it was now important that these recommendations, which have been sent to all UK universities, are implemented.
“We must now ensure that the work this task force has done goes on to make a real difference to students across the country,” he said.
“So I have asked UUK to survey progress in six months and make sure universities are doing all they can to protect the safety and security of their students.”
The new guidance has also been welcomed by the NUS. Hareem Ghani, NUS women’s officer, said: “We know sexual harassment and violence is prevalent on our campuses and women are disproportionately affected by this.
“No student should have to face this on their campus and we welcome the opportunity this guidance presents in offering clear recommendations to the leadership in education on the actions they need to take to challenge these issues.
“NUS will continue to work with students’ unions and across the education sector to end sexual harassment, violence and hate crime.”