How technology can support Higher Education institutions to tackle harassment and sexual misconduct

Harassment and sexual misconduct on university campuses across the UK is an issue that continues to affect many students, staff and local communities. In the face of renewed pressure and impending regulation by the Office for Students, institutions are beginning to take steps towards how they address the expected new requirements.

Alongside policy shifts, resource development, capacity increases and process improvement, the efforts to deepen technology capabilities will be a key pillar that universities can leverage to meet amended conditions of registration, and more importantly foster a culture that prevents misconduct.

This is a global problem, however, and unlike institutions in the United States that must follow Title IX requirements – a stringent framework within which universities must report on incidents - there is no equivalent UK regulatory or legal requirement to stipulate how HE processes and data are evidenced.

Inevitably, much of the work to be done in the UK starts at school where young people’s values and attitudes are shaped. A UK House of Commons report found that 59 percent of girls and young women between ages 12 to 21 say they’ve experienced sexual harassment at school or college, yet do not “see the point of challenging or reporting this harmful behaviour because it’s seen as a normal experience.” Nonetheless, the levels of harassment and sexual assault at universities outweighs those across the rest of society which means HE institutions have a huge role to play in dealing with these issues.

Using the data at hand

The upcoming sector-wide prevalence survey will deliver some further depth and insights regarding the current situation. The challenge will be how senior leaders then interpret this information and implement changes on the back of it. Furthermore, universities will have to consider how to develop additional resources within the context of an industry-wide financial pinch.

Encouraging the numbers of disclosures to grow is a clear first step. This will be coupled with need to reassure students who may not previously have had confidence in their institution that proper procedures are now in place to safeguard them.

In addition, universities will need to communicate clearly, and create a safe and supportive environment where students feel comfortable reporting incidents of sexual assault and harassment. This can be achieved through the implementation of strong policies and procedures for reporting, investigating, and responding to incidents, as well as the provision of confidential support services for survivors.

Understanding the 360-degree view of a what has happened to the staff or students, whether responding or reporting party, up until the time when the incident happened is crucial. This wider picture helps with accuracy of decision-making and speed of progress. Investigations and disciplinary decisions that take longer than they should erode trust and can even cost the university in fines or relevant compensation offered to the individuals involved.

Tech-enabled conduct case management

Moreover, universities will need to go one step further by managing the case work itself in a more responsible manner, ensuring non-conflicts of interest in how staff deal with the responding and reporting parties. This cannot be achieved on spreadsheets, email, CRMs or SharePoint.

Ultimately, a technology-enabled approach will provide insightful data back to the leadership teams who decide on resourcing. This joined up approach ensures that interventions are rolled out at the right locations, for the relevant cohorts and at the correct times of the academic year. Good use of technology, data and resources can therefore make campuses safer for everyone and help rebuild student confidence.

With Symplicity Advocate, student complaints and conduct teams can rely on the industry’s leading case management system which provides accurate reporting, workflows, and proactive solutions to ensure that incidents are properly followed up on. Students need to feel confident that the systems in place are there to support them throughout the process, with streamlined communication and documentation gathering, an integrated student interface to provide visibility, and responsible data sharing capabilities.

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Sexual violence prevention, Sexual Assault, Advocate, UK, UK students, United Kingdom, UK universities, sexual harassment

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