UK universities accused of complacency over sexual misconduct

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London: UK universities have been accused of complacent and inadequate response to sexual harassment and gender violence after a media investigation found inconsistencies in the support and services offered to victims across the country.

The criticism by sexual violence campaigners and the National Union of Students (NUS) came after responses to freedom of information (FoI) requests sent to 120 universities by the Guardian revealed that many do not provide training to staff on sexual misconduct, including harassment and assault, lack designated experts to deal with student victims, and in cases of staff harassment of students do not hold independent investigations.

Of the 104 universities that responded to the Guardian’s FoI requests, more than a third (39 per cent) said they provided no training to staff on sexual misconduct, including harassment, assault, rape, stalking, domestic violence and other forms of gender violence.

Many universities reported that they did not provide specific training on sexual misconduct but the issue was mentioned in general equality and diversity training, or in relation to their internal policies or legal responsibilities.

Only 27 universities reported that training on sexual misconduct was mandatory, representing just under half of universities that do provide some level of training.

Only 21 per cent of the universities surveyed said they had a designated point of contact with training on sexual misconduct.

More than half of universities said there was a member of staff students could approach.

Nearly a quarter of the universities (23 per cent) reported that they had no clearly designated point of contact for victims of sexual misconduct at all.

Just under a quarter (24 per cent) of the universities said their student advisers, who provide help and support to students with welfare and academic issues, had no training on sexual misconduct.

Almost two-thirds (63 per cent) of universities said they did not have harassment advisers or sexual violence liaison officers who had in-depth training on responding to sexual misconduct.

The Guardian’s findings also raise concern about the fairness of investigations into student complaints of sexual misconduct by staff, with almost half of the respondent universities stating that they allowed staff to investigate departmental colleagues.

Rachel Krys, co-director of the End Violence Against Women coalition, told the Guardian that the responses revealed a “shocking and depressing complacency by universities” towards sexual misconduct.

“There seems to be a lack of urgency in universities to get a handle on this and admit what they’re currently doing isn’t good enough and is failing everybody.”

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