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Reported incidents of rape or sexual assault rise tenfold at UK universities

The number of reported incidents of rape or sexual assault at UK universities has risen tenfold over four years, an investigation by Channel 4 News has revealed.

TW: Rape, sexual assault

Following controversy over the group chat case at Warwick, the investigation has taken place over the last six months.

The number of reported incidents made to universities per year rose from 65 in 2014 to 626 in 2018, according to figures obtained by Channel 4 News under Freedom of Information laws. In the last year the number increased by 82%.

Over the last five years there have been more than 1,600 reports of rape or sexual assault in total. Including other offences, like harassment, the number rises to 1,900.

Channel 4 said that the figures show there is “an epidemic of sexual violence”.

The University of East Anglia had the highest number of reports in the UK with 281 since 2014, while Cambridge – who reportedly would only supply figures for the last three years – had 165 reports and the University of Birmingham had 87.

Each university stressed that the number of reports included historic allegations which may have occurred off campus and so do not reflect the number of incidents at the universities themselves.

The number of reported incidents made to universities per year rose from 65 in 2014 to 626 in 2018

In interviews with Channel 4 News, several women who say they were attacked said they felt badly let down by the University of Cambridge.

Dr Charlotte Proudman, a junior research fellow at Queens College who has been working with female undergraduates at Cambridge, told Channel 4 News that she has seen many cases “swept under the carpet” and therefore leaving women unprotected and not given the support they need.

Channel 4 News said that all the universities stated that  anonymous reporting tools and initiatives to encourage students to report in an effort to better support them have recently been launched.

Cambridge University’s Senior Pro-Vice-Chancellor Professor Graham Virgo said that they have made a number of big changes since the broadcaster published their investigation, including an anonymous reporting tool and a campaign to raise awareness.

He said: “I know from listening to students that no matter how well an investigation is handled it can be an extremely difficult experience. We are doing everything we can to make sure students feel supported.

“Sexual harassment is an issue for all universities, and for society – 1 in 4 UK women between the ages of 16 and 24 are subjected to some form of sexual violence. It is one of the most under-reported crimes as a result of stigma and victim blaming attached to it. We have to continue to address this and we will.”

The University of Birmingham stressed that some of the reports were historic as students are able to report about any point of their life, including before university.

This is a pressing issue across society, including within the UK’s university student population of over 2 million, and we have called on university leaders to provide active senior leadership in this area

– Universities UK

Channel 4 News said that the university refuted the figure of 87 reported incidents, with the institution telling them that “over the last 5 years the number of formal complaints relating to sexual assault or serious sexual harassment was 14”.

A spokesman for Birmingham University told The Telegraph that the safety of their students is of “paramount importance” and that they “commend the incredible courage of all victims of sexual assault or rape and recognise the strength it takes to speak out about their experiences”.

“The fact that students increasingly report incidents of sexual harassment is a positive indication that the work the University and the UEA Students’ Union have done together over recent years to tackle issues of sexual misconduct is working,” a spokesperson for the University of East Anglia said.

“Over the past five years, UEA and the UEA Students’ Union have worked together on a Never OK campaign to encourage students to report sexual harassment or improper sexual conduct and to build a culture of zero tolerance towards issues of harassment.”

In response to this issue, a spokesperson for Universities UK stated: “Universities are working hard to ensure that no student or member of staff is subjected to sexual assault or any form of harassment.

“This is a pressing issue across society, including within the UK’s university student population of over 2 million, and we have called on university leaders to provide active senior leadership in this area.

“Our progress report found that although there is more work to be done, universities are making progress in tackling student sexual misconduct and there has been an increase in disclosures, which is considered a positive indication of cultural change where people feel comfortable reporting.”

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