September 26, 2018 / 6:01 PM / 3 months ago

British universities failing to tackle staff sexual misconduct - report

LONDON (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - British universities are failing to properly investigate sexual misconduct by academic staff toward students and junior colleagues, an anti-harassment group warned on Wednesday.

Academic staff were highly unlikely to be sacked for sexually inappropriate behavior while official policies were often vague and left victims without redress, according to a report from The 1752 Group.

“Members of staff against whom complaints were being made were for the most part remaining in post even after there were multiple students or staff making complaints,” the report’s lead author Anna Bull told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

“This suggests that at least at quite a few universities in the UK there are serial sexual harassers and sexual predators on the staff who are not being dealt with.”

A spokesman for the Universities UK body said they recognized “more needs to be done” on combating violence, harassment and hate crime and were setting up an advisory group to develop best practice on the issues.

The report comes amid widespread public debate around the issues of consent and sexual violence faced by women, triggered by the #MeToo campaign which has seen a slew of high-profile figures accused of sexual misconduct over the last year.

A poll last year found more than half of British women have been sexually harassed at work or a place of study, though most did not formally report it.

U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos has rolled back protections for students who suffer assault, harassment or rape.

The 1752 Group report looked at 16 women who reported sexual misconduct by academic staff at 14 universities.

In most cases, interviewees said the staff member involved had targeted at least one other woman.

However, researchers found only one of the accused staff members was sacked, with two others resigning in the face of investigations and 12 still in post.

Almost all the women reporting misconduct said they had been blocked or dissuaded from making formal complaints, while a wider review of 25 university policies on relationships and sexual misconduct found the quality varied greatly.

The report found victims paid a heavy price, with some forced to drop out of their studies or leave academia entirely.

“It’s the worst single thing that has ever happened to me and I think of it in terms of before and after that happened,” one said.

The National Union of Students’ Women’s Officer Sarah Lasoye said the report “shines harsh light on the patterns of staff-student sexual misconduct, and the persistent failures of institutional processes”.

She urged universities to ensure they have clear policies on staff-student relationships as well as “transparent and robust procedures that hold perpetrators to appropriate account”.

Reporting by Sonia Elks, Editing by Claire Cozens. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women’s rights, trafficking, property rights, resilience and climate change. Visit news.trust.org to see more stories.

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