On the 14th March, a day marking the 153rd anniversary of the first admittance of women to English universities, students from the Universities of Oxford, Bath, Liverpool John Moores, Liverpool, Lancaster, Plymouth and Brunel delivered a co-signed letter to their Vice Chancellors and the Secretary of State for Education, Gillian Keegan. The letter calls for each university’s support in launching a national student experience survey on sexual misconduct, harassment and assault.
The survey will test student knowledge of what sexual harassment is, awareness of university systems, and confidence in reporting incidents of sexual misconduct. This united effort exemplifies what could be perceived as a national failure to work to prevent and respond to sexual misconduct in Higher Education.
The letter also aims to create a meeting by inviting the University Vice-Chancellors and Secretary of State for Education to meet with the students to gather “an accurate picture of the student experience and ultimately to improve prevention and response strategies relating to sexual harassment and assault”.
The action is being coordinated by Empowered Campus, a not-for-profit project of the feminist organising group ‘Love and Power’ (long-listed for a UN women’s award), which has been meeting with student leaders who were already campaigning about their university’s lack of progress in relation to violence against women. It Happens Here forms one of these student groups and has joined the other campaign groups across the country to contextualize their university work and identify national failings.
This involvement comes after a Cherwell investigation in 2022 reported 93 formal complaints of sexual harassment across the University of Oxford since the 2017/18 academic year. On a national level, a 2021 investigation by UN Women UK found that 97% of women aged 19-24 have been sexually harassed, with only 4% of women reporting incidents of sexual harassment. The letter also quotes the findings of an earlier student survey that only 2% of students reporting sexual misconduct feel satisfied with their university’s process.
Each group photographed their delivery of the letter to their Vice-Chancellor. On the 21st of March, Empowered Campus tweeted a picture of their delivery to Gillian Keegan outside of the Department of Education: “Hi, @GillianKeegan we are so excited to deliver this letter to you. Over the past week, student groups from 8 unis united to campaign for better sexual violence prevention and response in HE. Will you meet with us to discuss and to celebrate the launch of a new student survey?”.
Martha Jephcott, a co-founder of Empowered Campus, said: “As a nation we send more than half of all under-18s into Higher Education, but often they arrive in a hostile environment. Research shows that over half of sexual assaults happen on campus”. She believes that the “first vital step will be the launching of our survey that will lead to the first-ever Students Charter on Sexual Violence”.
Nicola Sharp, Co-Chair of IHH, stated: “University leaders, including our Vice Chancellor, are ready to start the conversation. Our message is clear: together, we can champion a nationwide movement towards transparent, accessible reporting processes and unwavering support for all survivors, no matter where they study.”
She added: “If you want to help our cause, you can fill out the Empowered Campus National Student Experience survey (https://cwk0kyjl4yn.typeform.com/to/Wg4gndx7). You do not need to be a survivor to take part.”
If you are in need of support, please consider consulting It Happens Here’s support guide: www.ithappenshere.co.uk/need-support.
If you live in England and Wales, are over the age of 16 and have suffered from sexual assault or rape, confidential 24/7 support is available from the Rape Crisis hotline at 0808 500 222.