Chapter 2: Respond
Nervous but determined, Victoria goes to the students’ union. She is provided with good support initially, but then the person who had been helping her leaves.
She goes to see a nurse, as advised, and everything changes. She is told “don’t bother reporting it – nothing will get done”.
80% of students do not think their university provides adequate support
According to our survey, 80% of students do not think their university provides adequate support for survivors of sexual assault.
As part of the #AssaultOnCampus investigation, over 100 Freedom of Information (FOI) requests were sent to universities across the south of England. Part of the request asked how much institutions had spent on measures to proactively stop sexual assaults on university property and how many staff were trained to deal with such incidents. There is evidence that the higher the spend, the more likely students are to report.
The inverse is also true. For example, Arts University Bournemouth (AUB) told this investigation they had spent nothing on preventative measures. They reported just four assaults in the last three years. Equally, University for the Creative Arts (UCA) spent nothing on preventative measures specific to sexual assaults, and had three reported incidents. This could mean that the number of sexual assaults at both of these institutions is much higher than being reported.
A spokesperson from UCA said: “The University prioritises the safety and wellbeing of students and staff and works hard to create safe and secure environments across all campuses. Sexual harassment of any kind is not tolerated by the University.”
AUB are yet to respond to a request for comment.
A spokesperson for Dorset Rape Crisis, a voluntary organisation run for anyone over 16 who has been raped or sexually abused, says work needs to done to educate students on campus.
“There needs to be an effort to raise awareness, to make sure people know where to look and so on. We want to give survivors a voice and take away the stigma.”
Sophie goes to see her head of course and, though they are helpful, she is quickly passed on to her university’s complaints department.
She feels unimportant; a nuisance.
“We email back and forth at first. They explain they can’t actually hold him accountable for sexual assault. They said you can either contact the police or we can issue a complaint. The reality is, as horrible as what happened actually was, I want him to be more freaked out by the situation rather than being given a sexual offences charge. I want someone to remind him that that kind of behaviour is not acceptable. I want them to make sure that he knows that.”
According to Universities UK, higher education providers are obliged to protect students’ wellbeing.
Bournemouth University has two members of staff in each faculty trained to deal with complaints of sexual assault. They have had zero reports over the last three years. But, in our survey, 14 people from the institution said they, or someone they know, had been sexually assaulted on university property. This points to a lack of reporting.
Mandi Barron is head of student services at the university. She said staff are not routinely trained to deal with incidents of sexual assault.
“We would advise any academic member of staff or a non-specialist member of staff to go and see a student support engagement coordinator [trained members of staff]. These are new roles that have been introduced in the last year, who we advertise as a point of contact,” she says. “Students have so many problems that academic advisors aren’t going to be specialists in anything.”
Generally speaking, the universities with the highest numbers of trained staff – the University of Sussex and the University of Kent, for example – ranked highly, comparatively, for reported sexual assaults.
Victoria goes to see the nurse. Apprehensive, she explains what happened. But the nurse does not seem bothered – she is more concerned with how much had been drunk on the night of the incident. “I feel like I’m being interrogated and told I’m in the wrong the entire time”, she says.
Victoria decides she wants to report the assault to her course leader, but the nurse tries to dissuade her. She leaves the clinic feeling worse than when she entered. “There is clear CCTV footage but she says ‘no-one will believe you’. I literally just cried.”
Victoria’s experience with some of the staff at university leaves her feeling disillusioned, empty and makes her want to stop pursuing the case.
Therefore, it can be said there is correlation between higher spending and a higher number of reported sexual assaults. Middlesex University placed second in the rankings for number of recorded sexual assaults.
Martha Jephcott is the Student Communities manager at Middlesex University. She says the university has spent as much money as possible on training in the hope it improves reporting:
“We’ve trained people in sport, we’ve trained people who are in societies, we’ve trained bouncers. So, whenever people come forward, they’re supported.”
Middlesex University benefitted from the HEFCE Catalyst fund, which aims to create change in the higher education sector. Ms Jephcott says: “The money allows universities to pay staff who work with survivors more effectively. It also lets us do some campaigning on campus to get the word out about how to report, what’s not okay and the support that’s available.”
Our survey showed that most students are not aware of what support is available for them at universities. One student knew trained staff existed, but did not know where to find them. Another said they were unaware of the services offered by their university, adding that “by that logic, they should probably do a better job of advertising that support.” A third said services exist at their institution but are “oversubscribed”.
“I’ve got nobody to turn to”
This is not the case for every university, however. One student simply said: “I’ve got nobody to turn to at university. Lecturers have no time for our personal issues and the union doesn’t care either. I’m getting help from a local support group.”
According to a recent report in The Times, more than 800 students at Cambridge University have signed an open letter in an attempt to get the burden of proof needed to discipline sexual predators reduced after claims they were not being held to account.
These findings were reflected by some of the comments in our survey. One student said they did not report to the university as it was “my word against his – they wouldn’t believe me” while another said “I didn’t think I had enough evidence.” Overall, we found a lack of trust in institutions’ ability to support survivors, as illustrated by Sophie’s story.
As a result of not wanting to formally report her attacker to the police, Sophie ends up going back and forth with the complaints department of her university. She feels trapped in internal bureaucracy. “I provide extensive personal statements, just like in police reporting – except I’m expected to collect the information from the witnesses. It takes me about a month to collect the statements. I had to reach people I didn’t really want to talk to”, she says.
Sophie gives the university all of her social media from the night – what she had written to people and how they had replied. She makes every effort to build a strong case.
But, she never gets to find out how it is used. “They pulled my attacker into a room and I don’t know what happened from there. I don’t know what he gets told – which was what I wanted in the first place. Was his mind changed? I don’t know. I’m not really informed of that. And that’s what’s really distressing.”