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Help us address staff-student sexual misconduct

Friday 17-11-2017 - 12:11

NUS Women’s Campaign launches research into staff-student sexual misconduct in higher education. Share your experiences to help us better understand the problem and do something about it.   

Help us understand staff-student sexual misconduct, share your experiences, and if you’d like to attend one of our focus groups looking into the issue, email policy@nus.org.uk.

It gives me great pleasure to announce the launch of this ground-breaking piece of research on staff-student sexual misconduct. This is a collaboration between NUS Women’s Campaign and The 1752 Group, a research and lobbying organisation working on the issue of staff sexual misconduct in higher education, and the foremost experts in this area. We also hope these findings will be used by national organisations such as the Universities UK and the Equality Challenge Unit to propose changes in the sector.

This research will allow us to investigate the scale of the problem in the UK and inform policy in the higher education sector. The survey asks if students have experienced or witnessed sexual misconduct from staff, and their experience of reporting these types of behaviours to their institution. It also asks about the types of behaviour students are comfortable with from staff, a topic that will be explored in more depth in our student focus groups (see dates below).

The Changing the Culture report published by Universities UK in November last year, signified a much-needed shift in how universities respond to instances of harassment on campus. However, the report failed to mention policies and practices for cases surrounding abuse perpetrated by staff. I hope our work will begin to address this.

As it currently stands, many institutions are ill-equipped to deal with instances of staff-student harassment (or indeed, harassment in general). A lack of research in the area, combined with a lack of understanding has meant that many universities do not have basic guidelines on this issue. To quote Anna Bull from the 1752 Group, “this research will allow us to start to understand students’ experiences of sexual misconduct by university staff, as well as where the gaps are in universities’ responses.”

In May 2016, renowned academic, Professor Sara Ahmed, resigned as Director of the Centre of Feminist Research at Goldsmiths, University of London. Ahmed later penned a series of blogs, Speaking Out and Resignation is a Feminist Issue to highlight the failure of institutions, in this instance Goldsmiths, to address the issue of sexual harassment.

Most recently, Graham Towl and Kelsey Paske wrote about the ‘huge incentive’ for universities to retain academics who have harassed or assaulted other staff or students because of the significant revenue and research grant they bring. Towl and Paske shine a light on how universities are prioritising reputational damage over the welfare of students.

There is a still a long way for us to go, but I am proud that the Women’s Campaign and The 1752 Group are taking a lead on this pertinent issue. For too long, these problems have been at best sidelined and at worst silenced by institutions. We need to talk about the open secrets that plague academia, to challenge cultures of entitlement and stop abuses of power wherever they happen.

Your contributions are crucial for this vital piece of work. The survey is for all current students, as well as ex-students who have experienced sexual misconduct, and will be open until 15 December. Participants will be entered into a draw to win five lots of £100. It should take between ten and twenty minutes to complete, and all results will be anonymised.

We are also looking for participants for focus groups, which will specifically be about professional boundaries between staff and students. These will be on 28 November, 4, 5, 6, 7 and 8 December. If you can make any of these dates, please email policy@nus.org.uk and we’ll send you more details. Again, your contribution to these will remain anonymous.

This work wouldn’t be possible without your support - please fill in the survey before 15 December and email policy@nus.org.uk if you want to take part in our focus groups.

Thank you in advance for supporting this vital piece of work.

In solidarity,

Hareem Ghani
NUS UK Women’s Officer

 

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