Sexual assault, harassment and gender violence by university staff are at “epidemic levels” in Britain, a new report suggests, the latest in a string of institutional sex abuse accusations in the United Kingdom.
New findings from 120 universities in the UK show nearly 300 complaints of sexual misconduct were made against their staff between 2011 and 2016, according to an investigation by The Guardian newspaper.
The British daily sent Freedom of Information requests to 120 colleges and found that students made at least 169 such allegations against faculty and staff over the past five years. At least another 127 allegations about staff were made by colleagues.
But many of the alleged victims said they were discouraged from making official complaints, and either withdrew their allegations or settled for an informal resolution.
Many other victims told the Guardian they never reported the misconduct because they were concerned of the impact on their education or careers, suggesting that the true scale of the problem is far greater than the latest figures reveal.
“These numbers are shocking, but sadly, from our experience, are just the tip of the iceberg,” said Ann Olivarius, a senior partner at the law firm McAllister Olivarius.
“Sexual harassment of students by staff members has reached epidemic levels in British universities,” Olivarius said. “Most universities have no effective mechanism to stop staff from pressuring students into sexual relationships, and when it happens, any sort of disciplinary action is pretty much nonexistent. Those in charge are often colleagues who have many incentives not to intervene.”
“Young women are often terrified about the consequences if they make a complaint about a staff member. So often, when they do, the university’s chief concern is to downplay any wrongdoing and protect its own reputation by keeping the whole thing quiet,” she added.
Oxford University reported the highest number of allegations against staff by students, followed by the universities of Cambridge, Portsmouth and Exeter.
The UK has been struggling to deal with a series of sexual abuse scandals that have raised doubts about how institutions, including the church, sports teams and the news media respond to those who are vulnerable to abuse.
A three year-investigation set up by the BBC concluded in February 2016 that Jimmy Savile, a British TV and radio celebrity who died in 2011 at age 84, had sexually abuse 72 victims, including dozens of children.
More recently, a child sex abuse scandal in youth football clubs rocked the country after the police said that at least 350 former youth football players had come forward in November to report abuse by coaches in Britain.