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Sexual abuse is rife in UK further education
Photography by Robert Bye, via Unsplash

A new study says sexual abuse is rampant in UK further education

A report by the NUS reveals shocking statistics about the prevalence of sexual harassment and violence in colleges and universities

From Warwick University’s refusal to dismiss students who ‘joked’ about raping a “whole flat (of girls to teach them a lesson)”, to the delayed removal of staff members accused of sexual assault, educational institutions in the UK don’t have the best reputation when it comes to their handling of sexual assault scandals. It won’t come as a surprise then, that a new report has revealed that sexual abuse is rife in further education.

Conducted by the National Union of Students (NUS), the report found that 75 per cent of UK students have had at least one unwanted sexual experience while at college or university, while one in seven had either been raped or subjected to an attempted rape.

“This is NUS’s first targeted piece of research into sexual harassment and violence specifically within further education”, the union’s women’s student’s officer Sarah Lasoye said in a press release. “It allows us to… (investigate) what type of abuse students have faced, and what impact these behaviours had on them.”

The report surveyed 544 UK-based students, and three focus groups – consisting mainly of women – at further education colleges in London and Liverpool. Following responses, the study grouped unwanted sexual experiences into four sections: sexual harassment, domestic abuse, sexual assault, and rape.

While over a third of respondents said they felt anxious or depressed, and would distance themselves from social events because of unwanted sexual behaviour, just 14 per cent reported it.

LGBTQ+ respondents were disproportionately affected by unwanted sexual behaviour, with bisexual participants negatively impacted the most. Women were significantly more likely than men to experience rape, fear their partners, or be subjected to harassment on social media and IRL.

Despite being confident they knew how consent should operate, most female participants expressed concern that they were unable to put this knowledge into practice, citing fear of someone else’s reaction and emotional abuse as reasons for not challenging unwanted behaviour. From 2020, schools will implement a reform to sex education, with consent being a top priority.

It was also found that disabled students were undoubtedly more likely to have experienced several forms of sexual harassment than those with no known disability.

“The findings show we need urgent responses to tackle sexual harassment and violence in further education institutions”, Lasoye continued. “This culture has been normalised to such an extent that unhealthy sexual behaviour has become harder to identify.”

She concluded: “The sooner we can open up our understanding of feminism and educate young people on sexual harassment and assault… the sooner we will be able to eradicate the toxic behaviours and attitudes that replicate and concretise themselves in the minds of young people.”

As well as improving education, it’s vital that universities and colleges take accusations seriously and properly administer appropriate punishments, rather than skirting around situations in order to avoid bad press. Hopefully this new report will open institutions’ eyes to the ongoing, very real problem of campus sexual abuse.