A Broken System?

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With the recent events that have happened over the past couple of years, the Stanford rape case, Harvey Weinstein affair, and the #MeToo social media campaign, sexual harassment and assault is a continuously debated topic across university campuses in the country and, indeed, across the world. Crimes against women and those in the LGBTQ+ community remain underreported, with many victims fearing speaking out due to backlash and victim blaming. As a result, a handful of cases make it to trial and even fewer ever reach conviction.

Bath Time recently conducted a survey on the student’s experience of sexual harassment and assault on campus. The survey included questions on the understanding of consent and the reporting mechanisms in place at the SU and University. The survey revealed significant gaps between understanding and practice and harrowing accounts of what students have gone through.

Bath Time recognizes that we cannot actively verify each account that is mentioned below as they were received via an anonymous survey, however we deem the following to be concerning and warranted being reported on.

“The university and the SU is failing students. When I have reported my rape and experiences of sexual assault, university services (ARC and wellbeing) simply told me not to drink, not to go out, and to ensure I’m never alone. This is victim blaming pure and simple.” 

“I know about 2 cases of rape on campus or in a student home, it was reported to the university and neither were taken to the police/dealt with in a way that the student was happy with”

“My best friend was raped on campus and we were essentially told by the university that their image and reputation came first and that they would support the police investigation but would make no public announcement and keep the incident widely under exposed”

Editor’s Note: Bath Time recognizes that the decision to report to the police can only be made by the victim/ survivor and not the University. The University should support students whether they wish to raise a formal complaint or not. 

With over 370 responses to the survey, there were two third female respondents and a third male respondents. 56.4% of students stated that they had maybe or definitely experienced sexual harassment or assault in Bath, while 36.8% said that they had maybe or definitely experienced harassment on campus. To put this in perspective, a FOI (Freedom of Information) request put in this summer showed that, from 2012 till 31st of August 2017, the university recorded 13 sexual harassment cases, 4 sexual assault cases, and 6 rape cases. On a national level, in the 2010 NUS Hidden Marks report stated that 68% of women students had been subject to verbal or physical sexual harassment.

The vast majority of respondents had an understanding of what consent was. This was further reflected when questioned whether individuals gained consent before engaging in sexual activity, with 92% believing they had. However, 46% did not feel they had provided consent when engaging in sexual activity. The difference between the two figures is concerning in shaping the scale of the problem that students are faced with.

Close to 50% of individuals stated they had witnessed sexual assault or harassment. Even less students felt afraid to speak up against the sexual assault and harassment they witnessed. There remains a gap in the ability of the bystander to confidently and effectively intervene in such situations that are prevalent across campus and in the city.

Other concerning results pertaining to the lack of education of the reporting mechanisms. 65% of students do not know how to report sexual assault or harassment. As a result of this, 86.3% do not know what happens after a report is made nor what the University’s policy on sexual assault and harassment is. These statistics are similar to an NUS report that two thirds of Freshers don’t know where to report sexual harassment.

Upon further research, the SU website was limited in its accessibility. There was no explicit mention of sexual assault or harassment on its homepage. Students can report an incident, under the ‘talk to us’ sub section section which allows students to fill out an anonymous form. On the other hand, when looking at the university website to report a problem, there was a health and safety option to report an incident and accident, but there was no explicit mention of sexual harassment or assault. When conducting a website-wide search for sexual assault and harassment, a victim would be directed to report the incident to the Well Being Advisers, make a formal complaint through the Director of Student Services or to speak to security. Both websites and sources of support leave much to be desired in the ease of reporting such incidents, as well as a provision of information as to what happens thereafter.

In other findings from our survey, there remains a continual stream of comments relating to individuals feeling let down with the response of the SU and the University when they reported their incidents. Individuals were questioned on the amount that was drunk, what they were wearing, and if they had been leading perpetrators on with their behaviour which resulted in their own assault and harassment. There were also comments made in relation the need to adequately address male harassment and the lack of efforts made to overcome its stigma. It is a perspective which is often overlooked in the very gendered discussion of sexual harassment and assault. 16% of males reported harassment in comparison to 46% of females.

In the final part of the survey, students were able to leave any further comments. It was here that one could gauge the failure of the system as a whole. There was a lack of information and understanding of the nuanced nature of this topic, with many respondents citing the prevalence of alcohol in clubs and SU nights as a particular environment where such behavior rampant. There was a lack of awareness about reporting mechanisms, the victim blaming of people when they did seek help, and the blowback from lengthy procedures.

Ben Palmer, SU Community Officer, said: “We take sexual assault and harassment extremely seriously, which is why The SU is working with the University in the running the #NeverOK campaign and constantly review our services to ensure they offer best-practice advice and  support”.

“Our professional advisors are trained to treat reported rape and sexual assault with the utmost confidentiality and sensitivity. You will be believed, you will be taken seriously, you won’t be pressured to make a formal report.

“BathTime highlights important issues about the transparency and accessibility of reporting – key issues that #NeverOK aims to address. We will investigate the issues raised in this report to continue making improvements in this area, working with the University to do the same in partnership.”

The University comment is from Peter Lambert, Pro-Vice Chancellor (Learning & Teaching): “The wellbeing of our students is paramount to us and we do not tolerate any form of harassment or violence to- wards members of our community.

“We take any reports of sexual harassment or rape extremely seriously and would urge any student who needs support to get in touch with Student Services or the Student Unions’ Advice and Representation Centre. Our clear guidelines for supporting students who report being sexually assaulted or harassed have been developed in conjunction with Bridge, a well-respected Sexual Assault Referral Centre. We place the highest priority on acting quickly, sensitively and in the best interests of our students.

“It is important that the person affected can decide whether or not to contact the police. We help students who choose to report to the police with transport, advice and support. We also provide comprehensive support to students who do not wish to raise a formal report.

“Training has been provided to SU bar staff and members of the University’s security team through the Good Night Out campaign, enabling staff to respond confidently to reports of sexual harassment or assault. We also have a wellbeing programme for students with nine members of staff providing welfare support, a counselling service and daily drop in session on campus for students seeking support.

Upon receiving recent funding from HEFCE, the University and the SU are working together on aforementioned #NeverOK campaign to combat sexual harassment and assault on campus. It aims to:

  • Develop a more accessible and visible online reporting mechanism which will appear on both the SU and University website.
  • Specialist training from Rape Crisis centres on how to work with victims/survivors of sexual assault.
  • Develop a disclosure pathway for all University staff to ensure that students are responded to sensitively and signposted to support
  • Develop a student support toolkit ensuring that victims/survivors of harassment or assault receive the most comprehensive support, including free counselling, transport to external agencies and academic, financial and accommodation support as necessary.

If you, or your friend, have been harassed or assaulted, please contact: the SU Advice Centre, in the Student Centre. You can call them on 01225 386906 or email them using suadvice@ bath.ac.uk Or Student Services, 4 West. You can call them on 01225 383838 or email them studentservices@bath.ac.uk 

This article has been amended and updated from its original publication

 

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About Author

Alisha Lobo is the Editor – in Chief of bathimpact. She writes about international politics with specific focus on the Middle East and India. She also reports on the University of Bath and the Students’ Union. She was the former News & Comment Editor of bathimpact (2015/16).

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