London
Thomson Reuters Foundation

How do you teach university students about sexual consent?

Train them, at least that's the approach of most British universities seeking to stamp out harassment on campus, according to a survey released on Wednesday.

Eight in ten universities surveyed said they had introduced new measures to tackle harassment and hate crime, including better information on how to report incidents, more support for victims and new discipline procedures.

Much like US college campuses, British universities have come under pressure to act after a jump in reported incidents and accusations of poor follow-up and support.

Nearly 1,500 allegations of sexual harassment or sexual violence against university students were registered in 2018-19, up from 476 in 2016-17, according to figures obtained under freedom of information laws by the BBC.

At Warwick University in central England, female students were targeted in 2018 by a male "rape chat" internet group.

The survey said two-thirds of British universities had now introduced sexual consent courses for students.

Eight in ten universities said they had also brought in new measures to tackle harassment and hate crime including improving information on how to report incidents, increasing support for victims and updating discipline procedures.

The report, by umbrella group Universities UK, received responses from 92 out of its 136 members and found that 65 per cent had rolled out consent training.

Campaigners said the survey failed to question any students, many of whom complain about poor support when reporting sexual harassment and violence to university authorities.

"This is just one part of the story," said Anne Bull, a director of the 1752 Group which campaigns to end sexual misconduct in higher education.

"We want to know what the experience is for the students who report sexual violence and sexual harassment to the university," she told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

While universities have made progress on handling sexual harassment, they have failed to prioritise other forms of harassment, including racial harassment, the report found.

"It is clear that there is a long way to go in ending harassment and hate crime for good in higher education," said Julia Buckingham, UUK's president.