The reluctance of UK universities to confront top researchers has contributed to ‘endemic’ levels of sexual violence in higher education, according to a major study.
Based on survey responses from nearly 4,000 academic staff, a long-awaited report by the University and College Union (UCU) published on Dec. 22, encounters with sexual violence are “common” in universities and colleges. One in ten respondents said they had been the victim of direct sexual harassment or abuse in the past five years, but half of them did not report it to their employers.
Almost a quarter of those surveyed (24%) said they had witnessed sexual violence on campus – including, depending on the definition used, unwanted sexual advances, derogatory or sexually suggestive comments, and sharing of sexualized material. , as well as sexual assault and rape. The most serious forms of sexual assault are “part of a continuum of sexual violence,” the report explains, because “seemingly minor and harmless acts can set the stage for physical assault.”
A lack of “organizational readiness” to sanction perpetrators is identified by the report, and this often has its roots in a reluctance to investigate or discipline “star professors” who attract large amounts of research funding, or for whom disciplinary proceedings would lead to reputational damage. too bad for the university, said UCU general secretary Jo Grady.
“Promising young women who have the potential for incredible research careers find these careers ruined by predatory male academics who are protected,” said Dr Grady, who added that these authors “remain in their roles and have the potential. to terrorize a whole new group of people over the years “.
“The star scholar is valued more by the institution than doing the right thing,” continued Dr Grady, who said many institutions wanted “to protect star scholars … because they give them a cachet that universities do. want to hang on “.
An “obsession with [reputational] the damage… has an impact on how universities handle this, ”said Dr Grady, who condemned a“ culture of protection from predators ”.
The “great power differential” between permanent faculty and staff on precarious contracts has created the conditions for harassment and sexual abuse, she argued, noting that the report finds that staff on non-permanent contracts are 1, 3 times more likely to experience sexual violence.
“Education has no more predators [than other industries], but the employment conditions that we see exacerbate this problem, “said Dr Grady, who said insecure academics see that” the very structure of the university tells them that they are not as important as other members of staff ”.
A spokeswoman for Universities UK said the UCU report and its findings “constitute difficult but important reading” and that “every case of sexual violence on campus is one too many and totally unacceptable.”
“Senior leadership in universities takes these issues very seriously and universities are committed to becoming safer places to live, work and study so that no student or staff member is subjected to any form of hardship. sexual violence or misconduct, ”she added.
This month, UUK published a toolbox for senior leaders about best practices and practical measures to tackle sexual misconduct and harassment, created in partnership with the charity Against violence and abuse and the National Union of Students.
“While progress has been made, including encouraging survivors to come forward and report, we know – and this report again underscores – that much remains to be done to end all forms of harassment in the world. “higher education. The UK will continue to intensify its work with the sector, including UCU, to look at what other steps we can all take collectively,” said UUK.
The report sets out a number of recommendations, such as dropping the use of non-disclosure agreements for victims of sexual violence and communicating the results of complaints to victims, but it also recognizes that UCU have failed and are calling on the union to change the way it approaches the issue of sexual violence.
Interviewees reported that access to support was blocked by local UCU branches or that inconsistent levels of support were available when a complaint was made. While some of those interviewed appreciated the support of their UCU representative, others reported that despite their willingness to help, UCU representatives were not properly trained or lacked the capacity to provide appropriate support.
The union has already started a review of its own process for members reporting sexual violence. The review, which is due to end in January, will be followed by recommendations on how the union can improve its procedures.
Lesley McMillan, who chaired the 13-member task force on the study, said the report “demonstrates the pervasive and persistent nature of sexual violence in the workplace.”
“The sector is realizing the problem – it is now essential that employers and unions work together to create an inclusive and safe university and college sector, preventing this damage and offering support and redress when it does,” said Professor McMillan.