Fewer than half of elite universities in Britain are monitoring the extent of sexual violence against students.
Seven of the 24 Russell Group universities said they do not systematically record allegations of rapes, sexual assaults and sexual harassment, while a further seven record only some according to a series of freedom of information requests.
One in five of the Russell Group universities also admitted they do not have specific guidelines for students on how to report such allegations in confidence or as a formal complaint either to the institution or to the police.
Leeds, Liverpool, Cardiff and Manchester universities and King’s College London told the Guardian they did not have such guidelines.
The issue has been highlighted in recent weeks by two Oxford University students. Former student Elizabeth Ramey attempted to challenge the university in court for what she saw as its failure to properly investigate when she alleged she was raped by a fellow student in 2011.
Ione Wells wrote an open letter to the man who sexually assaulted her as she walked home in London and spearheaded the #NotGuilty campaign to give survivors a voice.
Dianne Whitfield, chief policy officer at Coventry Rape and Sexual Abuse Centre (Crasac), stressed the importance of recording allegations.
“You have to start with knowing how big the problem is,” said Whitfield, who sees students from Warwick and Coventry universities. “If you are not recording it, how do you know? If you do not have trained staff and clear reporting routes, how do you know?”
The Guardian sought data going back five years to compare guidelines and strategies across institutions and to document the extent of sexual violence.
Eighteen universities provided some data on the number of allegations recorded. However, there was no standard system of reporting. Some listed individual rapes, sexual assault and harassment, broken down by year; some listed merely “confidential conversations with harassment advisers where incidents of this nature were discussed”.
The numbers cited ranged between two and 44 over the past five years. Unsurprisingly, those that recorded all allegations, as opposed to some, tended to record higher numbers, with double rather than single figures.
Rape crisis groups from university towns said such figures were likely to be a “gross underestimate” of sexual violence on campus.