New report finds almost two thirds of students and graduates have experienced sexual violence at UK universities



With no recent data to reflect victims’ testimonials and demonstrate the scale of the problem, Revolt Sexual Assault, in partnership with The Student Room, launched the first national consultation for students and graduates on this issue in a decade.

Of respondents:
• Only 1 in 10 reported their experiences to the university or police and just 6% reported their experience of sexual violence to the university.
• Only 2% of those experiencing sexual violence felt both able to report it to their university and were satisfied with the reporting process.
• A third of students (31%) felt pressured into doing something sexual.

4,500 students from 153 different institutions took part in this survey; 62% of which have experienced sexual violence at UK universities. When looking exclusively at female respondents the figure rises to 70%, 48% of which have experienced sexual assault. The figure rises again for students with a disability to 73%, where 54% have experienced sexual assault.

One survey respondent said:
‘Every one of my female friends has stories about sexual assault and/or harassment at university. I have given only the most harrowing example but could elaborate with over a dozen incidents for me alone. I have been unwilling to report the sheer volume of incidents I have endured I fear would make me look like a fantasist.’

Revolt Sexual Assault is a national campaign striving to return the power to student survivors of sexual violence, providing them with a platform and a voice. Founded by recent graduates, the campaign started with students using facial and voice obscuration software on Snapchat to share their experiences of sexual assault and harassment, allowing them to control their anonymity.

Hannah Price, Founder of Revolt Sexual Assault, said: ‘While at university I experienced everything from harassment and ‘casual’ groping to rape, none of which I reported – and I am not alone. I set up Revolt Sexual Assault to bridge the gap between institutions and student survivors, so that the scale of this epidemic is acknowledged and addressed. This consultation demonstrates that the experiences shared through the videos of our campaign participants are far from tragic exceptions; this is everyday reality for the majority of students.’

Revolt Sexual Assault found that the most commonly experienced form of sexual assault was groping and unnecessary touching in a sexual manner. 28% of student experiences of sexual violence are experienced in halls of residence. Other common places include social events (24%) and university social spaces like bars, refectories and shops (23%).

The survey reports that 8% of female respondents have experienced rape at university, which is shockingly double what the Office for National Statistics estimates. This a strong indication that the incidence of rape is much higher amongst the student population than the general population in England and Wales.
Other statistics revealed by the survey include that a third of respondents felt pressurised to do something sexual while at university. In the majority of cases (57%) the perpetrator was known to the student. And amongst those who knew the perpetrator it was most commonly another student from their university (75%).

The impact that sexual violence has on students’ self-confidence, mental health, studies, access to the local area and social life is evident in the survey. Respondents considered or engaged in academic consequences that included; 25% skipping lectures, tutorials, changing or dropping certain modules to avoid the perpetrators, and 16% suspending their studies or dropping out of their degree.

Another survey respondent commented, ‘I know far too many female students whose education has been negatively affected by unwanted sexual advances, in particular from course peers. Is anyone in power actually listening?’

When reporting on sexual violence, students spoke of a ‘normalised’ culture within the university environment, only 16% believed incidences of sexual violence are regularly discussed. 6% of those who had experienced sexual assault or harassment reported their experience of sexual violence to the university.

Only 10% of respondents reported their experiences of sexual violence to either the university or the police. When asked why, 56% of students were convinced it ‘wasn’t serious enough’. 35% felt too ashamed. 29% did not even know how to make a report to the university.

Just 2% of those experiencing sexual violence felt both able to report it to their university and were then satisfied with the process.

‘My university failed me entirely when I reported my sexual assault, and it was brushed under the carpet. I didn't bother reporting the second incident. I figured out that I had the emotional strength to do one of two things: I could pursue a complaint against my rapist, or I could finish my degree. I chose the latter and went for counselling after graduating, but I still have not recovered and I think about it literally every day. I am still so angry.’ – Survey respondent.

What support is there at University?
Bryony Chellow, a second-year student at the University of Bristol, spoke to campaign founders about her experience of informing the university about sexual assault: ‘The entire pastoral system is failing its student body. I had to go through months of meetings and emails, while trying to balance my studies with my deteriorating mental state, something which significantly impacted my grades. ‘Even after eight months, I had to revisit the assaults by having to relay them again, and still I was yet to receive the support that I needed.’

Also, students reported the worrying attitudes towards sexual violence on campus. Only 51% of respondents believed there was an understanding of what constitutes consent at their university. Only 47% could report that at their university there is a belief that groping constitutes sexual assault and 78% agreed that certain people blame the victim for the sexual violence they experienced.

Students were then asked what their university does well to combat sexual violence on campus, respondents praised their university for reaching out to students early in the academic year and telling them about the available support services during fresher’s week. Students also praised the use of poster and flyer awareness campaigns, and education classes for all genders on consent and bystander activism.

Hannah Price concluded:
‘During the campaign so far, I’ve heard countless stories of sexual violence from brave, incredible students – each of which has been too powerful to forget. Beneath the filters, the lifelong effects of these assaults are shockingly apparent.

‘The sad reality is the same themes emerge; students are suffering in silence and blaming themselves. They are having an extremely poor student experience and in too many cases being deprived of their education because of sexual violence and the lack of support available to them.

‘We want to see a uniform national response to what now must be recognised as a nation-wide issue – an enforced and consistent standard of care implemented across the higher education sector, with student survivors at its heart.

‘For instance, universities need accessible reporting systems, that minimise the distress caused to students, carried out by specially trained and independent staff.

‘Universities are currently relying on statements of a ‘zero tolerance approach’ but have none of the appropriate frameworks in place to substantiate or enforce this; shockingly, in some cases the same procedures used for plagiarism are being applied to students reporting rape. It is not good enough to shoehorn response to sexual violence into pre-existing policy framework like this; it is why it is so important for specific policies for sexual violence on campus to be developed, and applied in a consistent nation-wide approach.

‘Additionally, the introduction of extensive education from a young age on what consent, sexual harassment and sexual assault really mean, is essential.

‘Most of all, we want a society where Snapchat filters and digital disguises are not necessary. Where sexual violence at university is no longer normalised and survivors feel secure and supported enough to come forward, safe in the knowledge that they will be supported and they will be heard.’

Mhairi Underwood, Head of Community at The Student Room, stated:
‘This consultation has shown there’s a lack of confidence about what consent means, and on The Student Room, we see young people asking ‘was this rape?’ almost everyday.

‘There is a great deal of work to be done around ensuring young people are knowledgeable about what sexual harassment and assault actually are.

‘It’s worrying to think there is still not a widely-acknowledged truth about what is and isn’t okay.’ Georgina Calvert-Lee, Senior Counsel at McAllister Olivarius, a leading international law firm that specialises in discrimination and unfair treatment at colleges and universities commented:

‘This comprehensive survey should be a wake-up call to universities that they’re not providing the safe and non-discriminatory environment the law requires.

‘That less than 2% of those experiencing sexual violence felt both able to report it to their university and then satisfied with the reporting process means that almost all student sexual assault victims are being left to fend for themselves.

‘This is bad for students, bad for education, and bad for universities, which may also find themselves taken to court for breaching the Equality Act.’

Feature Image: Facebook / Revolt Sexual Assualt

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Nikki Peach

Deputy Editor 2018/19, formerly News Editor 2017/18 / Third-year English student