Sexual assaults at UK Universities almost triple as case numbers soar

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A BBC report published in early October has found that in the academic year 2018-2019, there were 1,436 allegations recorded of sexual assault at UK universities, a staggering rise on the 476 reports logged in the 2016-2017 academic year two years earlier.

The #MeToo movement which started on Twitter in 2017 has been cited as one of the reasons for the increase in suspected victims speaking out. It has liberated the conversation around sexual assault and helped victims gain confidence in reporting such crimes when they take place.

Many cases remain unreported. Such assaults can often lead to feelings of shame, guilt, and embarrassment. Suspects accused of perpetrating victims continue to go unpunished. Home office statistics show that more than 98% of assault claims go unpunished.

Both Kent Union and the University have launched initiatives to tackle this issue, with Venue and Woody’s implementing the ‘Ask Angela’ scheme wherein anyone can covertly

request for help from the bar staff if they feel threatened.

Kent Union launched its ‘Zero Tolerance’ sexual harassment and discrimination policy in 2016 which states: “Our Venue policy outlines that we do not tolerate the following behaviour in our premises: Unwelcome sexual gestures or innuendos. Groping, pinching or smacking someone’s body without consent i.e. bottom or breasts.”

Many students question whether this is enough to prevent such actions in the future, claiming that the Universities can do more. Lectures, consent workshops, specific counsellors for sexual assault, and more have been campaigned for at universities throughout the country to help tackle the issue.

Kent students are attempting to raise awareness around the topic, with prominent ‘meme’ pages at the university making posts concerning the issue. The Instagram account ‘kentunifess’, with over 5,000 followers, recently made a post targeting sexual assault. While their allegations were directed at a group of people, no further information has been uncovered about the allegations.

InQuire spoke with a student at the University of Leicester, Karli Wagener, herself a sexual assault survivor. She felt the level of care provided by the University was so poor she and other survivors created #MeTooOnCampus.

When Karli first reported the assault, she was told to simply “tell us [the university] what happened”, with no other guidelines or assistance provided.

Karli was given a ‘no-contact agreement’, meaning her attacker was not allowed to speak to her either directly or through other people. What this did not account for, Karli claims, was physical distance. Her attacker was allowed to come as close to her as he wanted so long as he did not speak to her.

When offered assistance by the University, Karli said after having to recount her trauma to the counselling service they told her she would face a waiting list of three to six months, and the independent sexual assault crisis centres in Leicester also had full waiting lists.

Karli contacted the Students’ Union president, telling her about her experience. Together they devised the plan for #MeTooOnCampus and began to push for reform of the University’s policy surrounding sexual assault.

A tweet about rape at the University of Leicester gained 4,000 retweets and this was used to spread awareness of the campaign. As a result, the University was forced to listen.

Karli met the vice-chancellor and, along with the rest of the survivors, has pushed the university to enact sweeping reforms.

The reforms included a reform of the no-contact agreement. The rules surrounding those accused of sexual assault being permitted on campus outside of their timetabled class hours were also revised.

The campaign led to lectures educating students on what to do when sexual assault takes place and has removed the cap on the number of counselling sessions available to students, which was previously six.

Karla says there is a long way to go. She is trying to get the university to improve inter-departmental communication, so survivors do not have to repeatedly recount their story to different university faculties.