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Universities Should Update Their Sex Crime Guidelines, Says Taskforce

The evidence was 'overwhelming'

18/03/2016 11:06 GMT | Updated 18/03/2016 11:13 GMT

There is an "overwhelming need" to overhaul the way universities deal with sexual violence on campus, a government-backed taskforce has said.

Many institutions currently rely on guidelines were established more than two decades ago, even though doing so might violate students' human rights.

The head of Universities' UK (UUK), the body which helped set up the taskforce, said the Zellick guidelines, published in 1994, needed refreshing.

"Since the publication of the guidelines we have seen significant technological changes in how students conduct their relationships, such as the rise in social media," chief executive Nicola Dandridge said. "We have also seen changes in the law including the Equality Act 2010 and the Human Rights Acts. 

"The recent establishment of the Universities UK Taskforce has led to some careful examination of the Zellick guidelines.

"The evidence submitted to the taskforce was overwhelming in its view that while the guidelines have some place in supporting universities, there is a need for them to be refreshed to reflect the changes that have taken place over the last 22 years since the original guidelines were written."

The taskforce was set up last year to establish how best universities can respond to sexual violence and harassment.

The group, whose report is due out in autumn, is also considering the need for robust reporting mechanisms, a centralised process for recording incidents and a "zero tolerance culture" which sets clear expectations of behaviour.

Sarah Green, of the End Violence Against Women Coalition (EVAW), applauded the progress, saying: "We warmly welcome the recognition by Universities UK today that changes in equality and human rights law mean it is time for universities to change the way they respond to allegations of rape and other abuse and harassment."

Earlier this year, EVAW released a report detailing the obligations of universities to protect the safety and rights of female students.

Universities have a legal requirement to protect their students, and, as the report pointed out, there has been "growing concern" about the safety of female students at UK universities in recent years.

Under the Equality Act, universities have "due regard" to eliminate discrimination and harassment of women, as well as fostering good relations between males and females.

The report states:

"Thus when a University or College is making decisions about their policies and practices on violence against women and girls (which includes bullying and harassment), governance of student societies and sports teams, campus security, housing, bars and social spaces, they must have due regard to the need to eliminate discrimination and harassment, and the need to advance equality of opportunity for women. The duty applies to decisions on individual cases, as well as policy decisions."

Susuana Amoah, NUS women’s officer, said: "We’re really pleased to see the UUK taskforce has agreed to do a legal review of the Zellick guidelines.

"We hope this review will lead to the creation of a new set of guidelines centring around the welfare of survivors rather than institutional reputation."

The taskforce was set up last year after business secretary Sajid Javid vowed to "end the evil" of sexual harassment on campus. 

Previous research revealed top universities were failing to record sexual violence against students. Fewer than half of Russell Group institutions logged all allegations of rape, sexual assault and harassment reported by students.

A survey by the NUS found one in seven women who responded had experienced a serious physical or sexual assault during their time as a student.