Documents to download

Warning: This briefing discusses sexual violence which may be distressing.

Student experiences

Studies and reports by academics and campaign groups have revealed a significant number of post-18 students across the UK have experienced sexual harassment and violence during their time in further or higher education. Data from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) shows that between March 2018 and March 2020, students in England and Wales were over three times more likely than average to have experienced sexual assault.

The types of behaviour cited by students range from inappropriate comments and catcalling to unwanted touching in a sexual manner, stalking, sexual coercion and assault, and rape. All behaviour is characterised by a lack of consent on the part of the person experiencing it.

Female students are the most likely to experience such behaviour, and male students the most likely to perpetrate it. Disabled students and LGBTQ+ students are also disproportionately affected by unwanted sexual behaviour. There is also evidence of students experiencing sexual harassment and violence perpetrated by university staff, and staff members experiencing similar behaviour from colleagues.

Legal duties of providers

The legal duties of colleges and universities in preventing sexual harassment and violence are mainly governed by provisions in the Equality Act 2010. Providers must have due regard to, among other things, the need to eliminate discrimination and harassment of women and to foster good relations between different groups, including between men and women.

Further and higher education providers also have a well-established common law duty of care to maintain the safety and wellbeing of their students. Further education providers that admit students under the age of 18 must also comply with the same statutory guidance on safeguarding as schools

Provider responses: policies and training

Some further and higher education providers have specific sexual harassment policies in place, which define unacceptable behaviours and procedures for reporting cases and dealing with complaints. Other providers deal with the issue through policies on bullying, harassment, equality, diversity, student conduct, and staff-student relationships.

Many providers have started requiring their students to attend classes on sexual consent. But issues have arisen in recent years in relation to spiking and the use of non-disclosure agreements by some universities when settling complaints following incidents of sexual harassment and violence.

Initiatives to address sexual harassment and violence

Organisations such as Universities UK, the 1752 Group, and Equally Safe in Higher Education have produced guidance for how providers should work to prevent harassment and violence, respond to incidents effectively, and support their students better.

The Office for Students (OfS), which regulates higher education in England, has produced a revised statement of expectations covering staff and student training, and policies to facilitate the reporting and disclosing of harassment and sexual misconduct.

The OfS has also given financial support to universities for projects designed to tackle hate crime and sexual violence and harassment.

Further reading

This briefing considers the issue of sexual harassment and violence for post-18 students. For pupils and students in schools and colleges under the age of 18, see the Library briefing Sexual harassment in schools.

Documents to download

Related posts