Following the confirmation of Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court this weekend, the need to better support survivors of sexual violence and campus rape has been thrown starkly into relief. In the midst of a torrent of media coverage that has, once again, drawn attention to the pervasive culture of sexual violence in Ivy League institutions, it can be easy dismiss terms like ‘campus rape’ as purely US-specific phenomena.
Figures published by the Student Room in March this year tell a entirely different story. 70% of self-identifying female students and recent graduates have experienced sexual violence or harassment during their time at a UK Higher Education Institution. Despite the introduction of a number of consent-focused nation-wide campaigns designed to tackle the issue, a new report published by the think-tank consultancy GenPol has drawn attention to a culture of `resistance and institutional reluctance` to these measures, citing a need for greater ‘commitment to consent training’ in order to tackle the culture of sexual abuse in British universities.
The study, carried out in collaboration with academics from the University of Cambridge, builds on focus groups and an online consultation with university staff, students, and trainers across the UK. Although the report highlights a number of benefits to consent workshops, it found that students increasingly run the risk of ‘turning cynical’ on consent teaching and lose motivation if they do not see their university committing to addressing abuse. The fragmentation of sexual violence reporting mechanisms and disciplinary procedures across British universities was also highlighted as a ‘key barrier’ to tackling harassment and assault on campus.
Dr Lilia Giugni, GenPol’s CEO and a Cambridge academic, explains what strategies should be adopted urgently. “Women’s Officers and Student Unions have done an amazing job at mainstreaming consent workshops across universities nationwide. However, the rates of sexual assault on campus remain outrageous and it is time to look at the big picture and talk solutions at the institutional level.” Part of the solution, she suggests, lies in developing “accessible and effective reporting mechanisms and disciplinary procedures”as well as a sustained strategy of support for survivors, including compulsory training on gender-based violence for members of staff, and the hiring of specially trained therapists.
Following widely publicised reports of sexual harassment at the University of Nottingham and Warwick in 2018, the study has draw attention to the urgent need for expansive response to the question of consent. As Dr Michelle Fava, education expert at Anglia Ruskin University and the Cambridge Judge Business School and one of the reports co-authors explained: “It’s crucial to acknowledge the role of educational institutions in shaping student culture. Universities have a responsibility to protect their staff and students, and we hope this report can contribute to promoting a safe and inclusive environment”