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Sexual harassment and sexual violence in schools - the university link

Nicola Dandridge

Nicola Dandridge

Former Chief Executive
Universities UK

This week, the Women and Equalities Select Committee reported on sexual harassment and sexual violence within schools.


Their findings were stark, with a third of 16-18-year-old girls reporting instances of unwanted sexual touching at school and 60% in the wider age bracket of 13-21 having faced some form of sexual harassment at school or college in the past year.


While schools are a pivotal setting for both boys and girls when it comes to learning about issues such as relationships and sex, our universities must also lead the way when it comes to continuing to provide a safe and positive environment for students.


We have heard – as part of the work of the Universities UK Taskforce on violence against women, harassment and hate crime – that, like schools, universities are not immune from issues surrounding sexual violence and harassment. But with so many young people now attending university, we believe that the sector can make a real difference in bringing about wider changes in attitudes and behaviour across society.


The taskforce has heard from a range of universities and students’ unions who are already working hard to develop innovative and effective activities to do just that. The taskforce’s final report, to be published next month, is an opportunity to showcase and share this best practice.  


It will also highlight the gaps that need filling, with a series of recommendations for universities. It is clear that leadership from the top is key. That is why I have personally chaired this taskforce and I have been joined by a number of vice-chancellors and leaders of support services who are talking about this issue loudly – on their campus and in their wider community.


Professor David Richardson, Vice-Chancellor of the University of East Anglia and member of the taskforce, has talked about the work of his university extending beyond the campus, to local bars and clubs to cover all aspects of student life. We have also heard from student unions, the NHS, police, charities and support groups.


The importance of partnership working will be a key theme in our report. And that includes working with schools. Getting the cultures and behaviours right, before students get to university, is crucial. As the select committee report highlights, “If we are to tackle ‘lad culture’ successfully at university, its work should start much earlier, in schools.”


Once students get to university, we must not only continue efforts to prevent instances, but also have robust and effective measures in place when they do arise. This includes trained staff and appropriate reporting mechanisms.


We believe that our taskforce’s report will build on, and complement the Women and Equalities Select Committee report, and will be an important building block in ensuring that all students enjoy a safe university experience.


The Universities UK Taskforce on violence against women, harassment and hate crime is due to publish its final report next month

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