“Victims of rape and sexual assault say they are not being taken seriously by elite universities, with devastating results”

Susuana Amoah, women’s officer at the National Union of Students, said: “It’s really disheartening, but not surprising, to hear that students reporting sexual assault are being met with victim-blaming and poor advice.

“Many students don’t even make it to the reporting stage because of the lack of clarity around the complaints and disciplinary procedures available to victims of sexual harassment and assault by universities.”

The NUS, which has examined the policies of 35 higher education institutions in England, Wales and Scotland on sexual violence, is expected to publish its report today. It is calling for Universities UK to develop national guidance to tackle the problem.

Some of the 50 students who contacted the Guardian reported historical allegations, although many told of recent experiences. They told harrowing stories of anxiety, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and, in one case, attempted suicide, that followed their alleged attacks.

Some had dropped out, failed to obtain expected grades or taken a longer time to obtain their degrees.

Only one reported a positive response, and that was from a student union. Most were women, although at least one was a man. Many spoke of being blamed for the attacks on them, others of a failure to provide support or practical help such as counselling or time off from their studies.

What they had in common was how alone they felt in being left to cope with the most traumatic experience of their young lives.

[…]

Home Office figures show that only 15% of sexual assault survivors report to police. When they do report, only a fraction of alleged assaults make it to prosecution. Research by Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary in 2015 showed that only 28% of alleged rapes of adults and children in England and Wales reported to police were referred to the Crown Prosecution Service.

[…]

The reality of sexual violence on campus, where the alleged perpetrators and victims often live and work in close proximity, and where survivors are unlikely to report to police, means that universities are the front line in terms of reporting and support. Many have numerous policies on such issues. Yet, according to those who spoke to the Guardian, they are not working.

[…]

Much sexual violence at universities involves alcohol, consumed by the perpetrator, the victim or both, adding a layer of complexity to an offence around which many misconceptions still lie.

Dianne Whitfield, chief officer at Coventry Rape and Sexual Abuse Centre, where 10% of their clients are students, said that it was crucially important that the first response was supportive.

“If that first response is negative or judgmental, it could cause huge problems in their mental state,” she said. “It shuts them down. They are already blaming themselves for not foreseeing that a person may be a sexual predator.”

Whitfield said that because of the victims’ tendency to blame themselves, counsellors needed training in how to offer support without judgment or prejudice. But the students who spoke to the Guardian appeared to experience the opposite.

[…]

A series of freedom of information requests from the Guardian to elite universities reveals that this policy, to refer students to police, is common. Some go further, even insisting that student survivors of sexual assault report to police, if any action is to be taken by the university. This is against advice from Rape Crisis and other groups.

Sarah Green, director of the End Violence Against Women Coalition, which is lobbying for universities to better investigate sexual violence, said specialist organisations would never prescribe reporting to police. Green said: “There is an issue about respect for the victim. You don’t tell women what they should do either for themselves or others. Women are known to their attackers, so there’s a whole load of decisions going on before that one.”

Full article here

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