Sexual harassment by staffers is on rise in UK varsities at epidemic levels, The Guardian has reported.
At least 169 complaints and allegations were lodged against university officials by students whereas 127 allegations were reported about staffers by their colleagues between 2011 and 2017, according to Freedom of Information (FoI). The shocking data emerged as FoI sent requests for information to some 120 universities.
Myriads of victims of sexual harassment said they were discouraged to file an official complaint and were advised to settle for an informal resolution. Scores revealed that they did not speak up against the harassment because it would have adversely affected their education and career.
“These numbers are shocking, but sadly, from our experience, are just the tip of the iceberg,” said Dr Ann Olivarius, senior partner at law firm McAllister Olivarius which is involved in pursuing the harassment cases.
“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 nonexistent. Those in charge are often colleagues who have many incentives not to intervene.
“Young women are often terrified about the consequences if they make a complaint about a staff member. So often, when they do, the university’s chief concern is to downplay any wrongdoing and protect its own reputation by keeping the whole thing quiet.”
Anna Bull, co-founder of the 1752 group set up to address harassment cases in academic institutions, said the actual number of such cases will be staggering.
There is evidence to suggest that the actual figures in the UK will be staggering. The Association of American Universities undertook a detailed survey of sexual assault and sexual misconduct in 2015 (student-student and staff-student). Surveys were completed on 27 campuses, with 150,072 students responding. The survey found reporting rates for sexual harassment – staff and student – [were] 7.7%, and only 28% of even the most serious incidents are reported to an organisation or agency.”
Oxford University has reported the highest number of allegations, all in all 21 complaints, against their staff by the students. Next comes Nottingham with 10, Edinburgh with nine, University of the Arts London (UAL) and Essex with seven and Cambridge with at least six.
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.”
Further, it has been learnt that only five universities compensated their students after pursuing the case properly.
Campaigners and legal experts warn the universities’ administration that the problem is not on rise in institutions with higher number of complaints. They argue that the problem lies with the ineffective procedure of how a complaint is lodged, pursued and concluded.