Cambridge University has revised its disciplinary guidelines on reporting sexual assault and harassment, following criticism over its failure to protect students from sexual violence.
The new policy, which would allow victims to formally report allegations of sexual violence to the university for the first time, was welcomed by the National Union of Students (NUS) and by lawyers who believe the university’s previous guidelines to be unlawful.
However, it remains unclear whether, and in which circumstances, the university will now investigate allegations of sexual assault or harassment.
An investigation by the Guardian in May found that fewer than half of Russell group universities monitor the extent of sexual violence against students, while one in six publishes guidelines on reporting such allegations.
Last year, a survey by Cambridge University Students’ Union reported that 77% of respondents said they had experienced sexual harassment, 30% said they had experienced sexual assault and that the majority of such assaults went unreported.
Brooke Longhurst, a graduate student and founder of the We Support Women In Sport project at Cambridge University, said of the new guidelines: “This means more security to individual victims of sexual assault and sexual violence. There is definite merit to using the criminal justice system, however in the minority of cases that are not dropped due to a lack of evidence by police, it takes on average two years to be completed.”
She said that she hoped the university would begin to investigate in certain cases.
Susuana Amoah, NUS women’s officer, said: “It’s great to see Cambridge University proudly working with students to develop their disciplinary code of conduct and outlining sexual assault as a part of it. Hopefully other universities will be inspired by this action and work closely with staff, students and local specialist services such as Rape Crisis to shape better policy.”
Charlotte Chorley, the women’s officer at Cambridge, said the move by the central university was an “important first step” in ensuring sexual harassment policies were in place across all colleges within the university. She said: “The Women’s Campaign have a key priority this year to get policies in all colleges, and it is a good step that the university is taking this into consideration – even if it has taken far too long.”