Since the Guardian began an investigation into sexual harassment in universities, there has been growing criticism that many institutions remain complacent about the scale of the problem.
In late 2016, we sent Freedom of Information (FoI) requests to more than 100 UK universities
asking how many allegations and complaints they had received against staff. We found widespread inconsistencies in the way these incidents were handled and recorded, which reflected claims made by victims and campaigners that universities’ figures underestimate the scope of sexual misconduct.
For our latest story we sent out two FoI surveys seeking figures on complaints against staff and students as well as staff suspensions, teaching bans, whether universities offered training on sexual consent and how they signposted access to support for victims of sexual misconduct.
The first FoI revealed that some universities hold figures on sexual misconduct reported to their counselling services as well as on formal complaints. While this data suggests the extent of sexual misconduct at universities may be higher than the number of formal complaints suggests, it is difficult to reach firm conclusions due to the way the data was recorded.
Taken together, the findings of the two FoI surveys also revealed further inconsistencies in the recording and disclosure of information about sexual misconduct. As many universities only record figures on formal complaints, the data they disclosed in response to both requests should have been nearly identical.
However, this was not the case. Cross-checking the responses, we found many significant disparities in the answers we received. Usually, the reasons were clear: one response did not include either complaints against staff or students, or – for no apparent reason – data from some of the years requested had not been disclosed. But in a minority of cases the universities concerned could not explain the disparities and they are now conducting internal inquiries to try to understand this.
Anna Bull, co-founder of the 1752 Group, which advises universities about sexual misconduct said, “It is not clear that any progress has been made towards the goal of institutional data collection and robust reporting. This is extremely concerning as it is an indication that senior leadership within higher education institutions are not taking sexual violence seriously.”
Read the full article Sexual misconduct at UK universities: the figures don’t add up
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