The NUS has claimed that 20% of students experience sexual harassment during their first week at university. Further, 66% of students don’t know how to report it. UUEAS has declined to indicate whether it could have done more to raise awareness of sexual harassment after only a handful of students at UEA reported sexual harasment during Welcome Week.
The Union of UEA Students (UUEAS) has said that only “11 incidents… [of] sexual harassment within our venues” were recorded during UEA’s Welcome Week. The incidents included “staff-witnessed harassing language and behaviour and some incidents reported to us. In each case support was given to victims where possible and identified perpetrators have been subject to action proportionate to the offence including warnings and/or temporary bans in accordance with our Code of Conduct”.
According to the NUS, nationwide a further 29% of the students witnessed sexual harassment during this time. The most common forms of harassment were rape jokes, unwanted sexual comments and heckling in clubs. 59% of these incidents happened at social events or nightclubs and just over a third happened in halls of residence.
Another issue that emerged from the NUS survey is many students’ lack of knowledge about how to report an incident. Over 60% of the students stated that they were not made aware of any codes of conducts implemented by their university, and a 66% did not know the procedure to follow in order to report these incidents. 12% of students thought that even if they reported the incident, they would not be taken seriously.
A union source told Concrete that “it may not surprise you to learn that students coming forward to venue staff during Welcome Week were very low. This is common across students unions, where students that aren’t aware of schemes don’t automatically assume that venue staff would help”.
UUEAS declined to indicate whether concerted extra effort was put into preventing sexual harassment during Welcome Week, aside from publicising the Good Night Out scheme. A spokesperson said: “Posters and flyers making clear that students can and should come forward regarding sexual harassment under the auspices of the Good Night Out scheme were deployed in Welcome Week. However, as is the experience from other unions, we get little take up until later in the term”.
UUEAS Community, Welfare and Diversity Officer, Jo Swo, told Concrete: “I take Never OK and sexual harassment really seriously… UUEAS has a zero-tolerance approach to sexual harassment. Our posters were created to inform people what sexual harassment is and to dispel the myths that surround and protect sexual harassment”. She insisted that the union’s priority is to ensure “students are safe in the city as well as on campus… We want to really change the nightlife culture that makes [harassment] acceptable”.
She added: “Unfortunately, sexual harassment and student life are thought to go hand in hand, especially during Freshers’ Week, which is why we’ve pushed Never OK and Good Night Out so hard in the first few weeks: so new students knew the reporting processes and zero-tolerance approach we have in place, so they can use it in the future”.
When asked whether UUEAS had done enough to encourage reporting of harassment, Swo said: “It’s unacceptable that anyone is sexually harassed or feels unsafe. On the other hand I’m glad that staff are reporting incidents as it shows our training is working”. She suggested that more reports mean fewer unreported incidents: “students are no longer accepting [harassment] as part of the student experience”.
“[But] there is always more to be done. We want to expand Never OK into the city, as well as societies and clubs, in the classrooms and in dorms. While I’m unhappy that reports had to be made, I’m glad students are using the resources at hand to report sexual harassment and hold assaulters to account and make them face the punishments”.
The union’s definition of what constitutes sexual harassment is available on its website. It says: “sexual harassment can include unwanted groping or touching, pinching or smacking of your body, uninvited kisses or bodily contact and sexting or use of private images”.
The union’s definition also includes: “wolf whistling, catcalling, inappropriate sexual comments, sexually based insults, jokes, songs or taunts”.
A second-year English Literature student, who wished to remain anonymous, commented that: “As a female student I have witnessed and experienced sexual harassment on many occasions on campus. Given the vulnerability of many first year students, especially during Freshers’ Week, I feel that the union really needs to be doing more to ensure everyone’s safety”.
NUS women’s officer, Susuana Amoah, is currently working with nine students unions who have audited their own processes of sexual harassment reporting and investigation and will be supporting many more to carry on this work until students feel aware of how to report sexual harassment, and safe and confident that their concerns will be taken seriously.
Speaking on the issue Amoah said: ““It’s extremely worrying, but not surprising, that so many students in their first term of university have experienced sexual harassment or seen it happen to somebody else”.
This is not the first time Amoah has called on more to be done about sexual harassment. In the summer the women’s officer said: “We, the student movement and society as a whole, are no longer in a position where we can continue to allow the issues women face on campuses across the UK and beyond to be ignored”.