In the last few years, universities in the United Kingdom and Ireland have come under increased pressure over the mishandling of sexual assault against students and staff with various universities refusing to investigate allegations made by students. This is very troubling to university staff trying to do right by students, parents, and the university system as a whole. Due to the heightened scrutiny, it is imperative that students and staff have the confidence that the proper steps are taken when they report allegations of misconduct, whether those steps involve related mental health support or ensuring the proper sanctions are enforced.
Yet, unlike their higher education counterparts in the United States, UK and Irish institutions are under no legal requirement to manage and track student data regarding sexual assault or harassment. However, by keeping track of student complaints and issues, universities can identify ways to better gain student confidence with reportable, ethical data.
Despite regulators not currently obligating universities to report or track such incidents, the institutional responsibility is no lower. At a time of crisis, like what happened in the summer of 2020 with an anonymous social media account accusing various universities of mishandling sexual assault claims, being prepared to identify and report on these incidents means students will have confidence in their institutions.
According to a 2019 report by the charity Brook, surveying UK university students, fewer than one in ten students (8%) exposed to unwanted sexual behaviours actually reported the offence to their campus office. Additionally, 53% of respondents had experienced unwanted sexual behaviours from another student. The discrepancy between the number of unwanted sexual behaviours that occur, and the rate at which students feel safe reporting them, is something that universities need to tackle.
The rise of the #MeToo movement in recent years, and ongoing headlines regarding UK and Irish universities mishandling of sexual misconduct cases, has put universities under the microscope about how they are not adequately supporting their students and reforming previous practices. It is now more important than ever to ensure that institutions are properly equipped to support their students and reform their practices to rebuild student confidence with reportable and ethical data that ensures they know what is happening on their campuses.
Despite the rise in sexual assault cases and outpouring of protests from students alike, Sara Khan, Vice President for Liberation and Equality at the National Union of Students told the Express, “It is very worrying that so many universities still do not record information on staff-student sexual misconduct centrally.”
On a positive note, a number of Vice Chancellors have stood up recently and said they want to be more transparent, thus dispelling fears that universities will resist change in order to protect their reputation. Yet, this needs sector-wide participation.
Despite a lack of universal standard for reporting these incidents, universities must collaborate and begin to share data in order to better align processes and interventions with the goal of better protecting students.
With Symplicity Advocate, Student Conduct teams can rely on accurate reporting, workflows, and proactive solutions to ensure that incidents are properly followed up on. For this reason, accurate reporting is essential to give students the knowledge that their university is ensuring the safety of all students and is accountable. Students need to feel confident that the systems in place are there to support them throughout the process, with streamlined communication and documentation gathering, while also giving confidence to the university that should a crisis occur they are prepared. With Symplicity Advocate, wellbeing advisors and student services managers can proactively identify and support students who need help. Having all of the information in one place enables universities to help students faster and build a safer community.