Content warning: sexual assault, sexual harassment and rape
Amazing parties, lifelong friends and an invigorated passion for learning are normally the first images which come to mind when one envisions university. No one pictures the debilitating fear and shame of sexual harassment; it isn’t talked about in the glossy brochures showing a crowd of smiling students chanting “here is where you’ll have the best years of your life!”. However, for many students, expectation does not the reality. A 2017 report By The National Union of Students has found that 68% of students have been victim to sexual harassment on campus.
This alarming statistic also brought light to the fact that 160 of these cases have been staff-to-student. Although reports are at epidemic levels, many students have not been happy with the outcome and felt shamed by their institutions into keeping silent. Students surveyed discussed the fear and isolation they felt from their universities’ failure to tackle their complaints – at times leading them to give up their case altogether.
In the wake of Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein’s assault scandal of more than thirty female actresses, sexual harassment has been brought to the forefront of media attention. Now more than ever, institutions of all forms have been forced to tackle the issue face on rather than ignore what’s really been happening. We should support the calls from many victims for proper education on sexual harassment that could be the first step to tackling this crisis on campus.
This is not just an issue at universities, but one endemic to the whole education system. Speaking to The Telegraph last year, MP Maria Miller, Chair of the Women and Equalities Committee spoke out against sexual harassment occurring in British schools, saying that “sexualised behaviour had become the new social norm”. Miller’s inquiry into these assaults found in 2015 that 5,500 sexual offences were recorded in British schools.
As of now, there are no formalised, government-backed sexual harassment classes in schools and as such, many students are uninformed about the effects of assault. Indeed, many young adults are not even educated in what constitutes harassment and may be committing crimes which could easily be prevented through a devoted education system.
Green Party co-leader Caroline Lucas stated that the teaching of personal, social and health education in schools should be made compulsory as it would prepare students for university life, equipping them with “solid building blocks when they encounter complicated situations”. Though Ms. Lucas brought forth this idea to Parliament in 2015, no such action has been taken to prevent the spread of sexual assault in schools and university campuses.
Now more than ever, it is time to act. As the number of assault cases begin to rise, universities and schools should start doing more to educate incoming students. Formal education would help raise awareness of the pervasive nature of such an overlooked and dangerous issue, reducing ignorance and the ‘lad mentality’ that is much the cause of this crisis.
Education begins and ends with the institution – what you take from university or school stays with you for the rest of your life. Institutions must take sexual assault more seriously than ever. Students must have the right to feel safe in a learning environment and steps must be taken to ensure that they are properly educated in what is right and wrong behaviour. In honour of the thousands of victims of sexual assaults, we must act before the numbers rise to an even more alarming level.
Image: Policy Exchange via Wikimedia