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Guidelines for UK universities to tackle online harassment
Photography by Annie Spratt, via Unsplash

UK universities aren’t doing enough to tackle online harassment

New guidelines have been introduced to help institutions recognise and reduce cyberstalking, trolling, and sexting

In February, hundreds of students, alumni, and staff took to the streets of Warwick to protest the university’s lax attitudes to rape culture and racism on campus. As abuse continues to thrive in institutions across the country, Universities UK (UUK) has published new guidelines on how to tackle online harassment.

The guide comes after experts warned that less than a quarter of UK institutions have adequate procedures in place. UUK has recommended that universities clearly set out how they expect students and staff to behave online, making reference to harassment in disciplinary policies. 

Calling for a zero-tolerance approach, the guidelines assert that senior management should be held accountable for students’ safety online, with staff receiving specialist training so victims can be better supported.

Many universities also particularly fail to recognise the severity of child abuse image possession. Students entering university as 18 year olds may retain nudes of younger former classmates – images which are classed as child pornography.

Professor Debra Humphris, the chair of UUK’s student policy network, told the Guardian: “Misuse of social media and other online platforms can leave students exposed to abuse, affecting their mental health and wellbeing, disrupting their education and potentially impacting on their future employability and career prospects.”

“In order to tackle online harassment and cyberbullying,” she continued, “we must consider the specific threats it poses as part of our duty of care to all students.”

Shocking statistics about university abuse have come to light over the past couple of years, with more than half of UK students witnessing racism on campus, and 75 per cent having unwanted sexual experiences

Following Warwick University’s initially lenient punishment for the group of boys who ‘joked’ about “raping the whole flat (of girls) to teach them all a lesson”, the new guidelines are a positive step forward in educating institutions about the prevalence of harassment on campus, and helping them tackle incidents of abuse.