While universities in the UK, and around the globe, continue to navigate how to keep their students safe from COVID-19, new concerns have risen on how UK universities handle sexual violence amid the pandemic. As students across the UK are having to self isolate in their residential halls, students and university officials are concerned that this could lead to a rise in sexual violence that many UK universities have had to handle indicating a worrisome trend among UK universities surrounding sexual assault. Most recently at Durham University where derogatory messages were leaked from a fresher’s group chat ahead of the start of the academic year as reported by ITV Tyne Tees. These messages included insinuating sexual assault targeting the “poorest students” along with derogatory language towards women.
This follows ongoing reports from St. Andrews University of dozens of allegations of sexual assault and harassment were posted on an anonymous Instagram account this summer alleging that members of a fraternity carried out the acts. The anonymous Instagram account includes more than 100 posts alleging incidents of sexual assault, harassment, rape, as well as physical and emotional abuse. However, in the last five years, only three students have been thrown out of the university, and 20 have been disciplined. This underscores the larger issues that universities have of providing a safe space for students to report sexual misbehaviours in the first place.
According to a 2019 report by the Brook charity, 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 occur, and the rate at which students feel safe reporting it is something that universities need to tackle. Particularly, as universities, first and foremost, are in a position to take necessary measures to protect students from COVID-19, but also sexual violence. This is to ensure that no student has to undergo trauma following a sexual assault as told first hand by Danielle Bradford in Feb. 2020 in the Guardian who is suing Cambridge University for its mishandling of her sexual harassment complaint. The rise of the #MeToo movement and headlines this year regarding UK universities mishandling of sexual misconduct cases has put UK universities under a microscope on ways they are supporting their students and reforming previous practices. It is now more important than ever to ensure that Student Wellbeing Offices across the UK are properly equipped to support their students and reform their practices and rebuild student confidence.
With Symplicity Advocate, Student Wellbeing Offices can rely on accurate reporting, workflows, and proactive solutions to ensure that incidents are properly followed up with. For this reason, accurate reporting is essential for providing students with the knowledge that universities first, and foremost, are there to ensure the safety of all students 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. 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.