Sexual harassment of students at UK universities has spiked in the last six years, with sexual misconduct and gender violence by university staff considered to be at “epidemic levels” according to an investigation by the Guardian. UEA have said they will not be considering any changes to their staff-student relationship policy in light of this investigation.
The number of alleged victims of staff-on-student and staff-on-staff allegations in the UK has risen to an estimated 300 claims since 2011. Dr Ann Olivarius, senior partner at the law firm McAllister Olivarius said: “These numbers are shocking, but sadly…[they are] just the tip of the iceberg”.
It is also claimed that some victims have been discouraged from reporting sexual harassment in fear of it affecting their education or careers. Campaigners have said victims have been been silenced by non-disclosure agreements (NDAs) in settlements by universities, including the University of London, to ensure that allegations would not have adverse repercussions to their reputation.
Responding to the possibility of there being an under-reporting of sexual harassment at UK universities, a UEA spokesperson emphasised the university’s commitment to taking the issue seriously but said they are “confident that we have effective procedures in place.” They said: “Every complaint we’ve been made aware of has been resolved.”
The university does not see staff-student relations as necessarily adversely prone to sexual misconduct, having said they have no plans to re-consider implementing an institution-wide staff-student relationship policy following the Guardian’s investigation. However, a spokesperson added: “the HR team provides guidance on issues related to relationships between staff and students” and “all claims of sexual harassment reported to us are dealt with and…fully investigated.”
A Freedom of Information (FOI) request granted in December 2016 revealed that since 2011 no non-disclosure agreements (NDAs) or confidentiality clauses have been used in settlements relating to sexual harassment “perpetrated or allegedly perpetrated by staff against students.” There have also been zero financial settlements made relating to sexual harassment claims.The FOI data shows that there have been only two cases of students reporting sexual harassment by a staff member in the last six years, one in 2015/6 and one in 2016/7. The former led to a Police investigation but was “not pursued after initial investigation,” whilst the latter case was subject to an internal investigation.
UEA also add that university Student Services strongly support the national Changing the Culture campaign, which emphasises the importance of a zero-tolerance approach to sexual violence and harassment. David Richardson, UEA’s Vice-Chancellor was a member of Universities UK’s task force investigating violence against women, harassment and hate crime last year.