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‘Huge problem’ with underreporting sexual harassment

In a follow-up to a recent article on Cardiff University’s sexual assault figures, NUS Wales’ Women’s Officer admits underreported assault is a ‘sad fact’.

In light of the recent revelation that only three cases of sexual assault were reported to Cardiff University over the past three academic years, NUS Wales’ Women’s Officer claims the fact students aren’t coming forward to report cases of sexual indecency in Cardiff University is reflective of the issue within “wider society” as a whole.

When asked why students aren’t reporting cases of sexual assault or harassment to their university, Rose Inman, Women’s Officer for NUS Wales, accused detrimental attitudes within wider society for normalising sexual harassment and abuse, and believes it should fall on universities to take “proactive steps towards tackling the issues.

“There are plenty of reasons why students don’t come forward – whether for fear of victim blaming or the fact that being groped or harassed on a night out has become so normalised that many students have just come to expect it,” said Inman.

“They need to start giving students confidence that their reports will be taken seriously and that perpetrators of these crimes will get more than a slap on the wrist.

“Often, students don’t even think to report harassment or assault to their university,” said Inman, “but if the perpetrator is a student or employee at the university, then the university has both the power and responsibility to protect their students.”

Laura Carter, SU Women’s Campaigns Officer, agreed with Inman’s description of the normalising of indecent sexual behaviour, suggesting that students appear to expect sexual harassment as part and parcel of their university experience and subsequently do not think of reporting it.

Carter suggested that the introduction of a self-defence class may be beneficial to students, but admitted that coming up with solutions to put an end to inappropriate sexual behaviour among students is a ‘very tricky matter to tackle.’

One measure soon-to-be rolled across the Union to tackle the indecent sexual behaviour is the ‘Can’t Touch This’ campaign, which is set to launch next month.

In a motion submitted to Student Senate earlier this month, Carter and Student Senator, Kate Delaney, expressed concern that a lack of awareness among the student body of the Union’s Zero Tolerance policy may ‘act as a barrier’ to students reporting sexual harassment.

The motion cites the University’s Equality and Diversity manager and Deputy Director of Residences as having acknowledged ‘that more could be done to raise the profile of the University’s Zero Tolerance policy and ensure that students know about it.’

Carter and Delaney’s motion also called for the Union to train at least 50 per cent of its staff on the Zero Tolerance policy by September 2016.

An NUS survey published back in September discovered that 60 per cent of respondents were unaware of their university or students’ union’s policies put in place to target sexual intimidation and harassment.

Cardiff University’s SU Zero Tolerance policy, introduced back in 2012, denounces the following behaviour: unwanted sexual comments/invitation; groping, pinching or smacking of your body; wolf-whistling or catcalling; having your clothes lifted without consent; someone exposing themselves to you without consent.

Those who unwantedly experience any of the above are encouraged to contact the Union or University.

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