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Are the University’s sexual assault policies working?

National statistics reveal one in three female students are victims of sexual assault or unwanted sexual advances. However, Cardiff University reports contrasting figures: two instances of rape and one instance of sexual assault reported since 2011/2012.

Three cases of sexual assault were reported by students to Cardiff University in the past three years, a figure at odds with recent national statistics. This calls into question the effectiveness of the University’s policies on sexual assault.

Shocking figures recently published by The Telegraph revealed that a third of women and twelve per cent of men have experienced sexual assault or unwanted sexual advances whilst studying as an undergraduate in the UK.

But a Freedom of Information Act confirmed that no cases of sexual harassment were reported and that no cases of rape or sexual assault were dealt with under formal procedures by Cardiff University in the past three years.

Two allegations of rape were reported by the University’s Security and Portering Services whilst one instance of assault, allegedly of a sexual nature, was reported under the Student Disciplinary Procedure. Despite this, neither of the cases resulted in disciplinary action.

Cardiff University’s figures do not come close to matching The Telegraph’s national statistics, begging the question: are Cardiff’s preventative policies really this successful, or is sexual assault among students going unreported?

Either the University’s ‘Zero Tolerance’ and ‘Dignity at Work and Study’ policies are working extremely effectively, or students do not feel comfortable reporting cases of sexual assault to University officials.

Writing in response to The Telegraph’s figures, Professor Nicole Westmarland of Durham University accused institutions of failing to provide a safe environment where victims of sexual assault feel confident enough to report the crime. She also claimed that universities are ‘simply refusing to see the level of sexual violence that is happening.’

The Telegraph’s figures were calculated by specialist research group, YouthSight, who, having interviewed 1,000 students across the UK. They discovered that 97 per cent of those who experienced sexual assault did not report the crime to their university and 44 per cent believed their institution would ‘do nothing in response.’

Their poll also revealed that around half of female students and a third of male students claimed to know a friend or relative who experienced sexual assault, ranging from groping to rape, whilst attending university.

The findings appear to have reignited national concern for sexual responsibility among students, just as the debate on ‘lad’ and rape culture was threatening to exhaust itself, with some academics accusing lad culture of normalising inappropriate sexual behaviour.

An estimated 60,000 to 95,000 people are raped every year, while full time students have an increased likelihood of sexual assault, according to a Home Office report.

Professor Westmarland described universities’ policies regarding sexual assault as ‘archaic’ and accused casual references on sexual assault made by university sport and social clubs as trivialising the issue:

‘It speaks of a world where 18-year-olds go to college parties and expect to be sexually touched without their consent, where student nightclubs and sporting groups casually refer to sexual violence in their party themes and where university leaders continue to turn their backs on the widespread misogyny and assault that is happening under their noses.’

The Telegraph’s findings come less than four months after the National Union of Students launched its pilot ‘I Heart Consent’ scheme across twenty Students’ Unions up and down the country, which aims to educate students on sexual consent.

The NUS also set-up the Hidden Marks website for student victims of physical and sexual assault, domestic abuse and sexual harassment. The website is the result of The Hidden Marks research report, which revealed that one in seven female students had experienced ‘a serious physical or sexual assault during their time as a student.’

Sarah Green, director of the End Violence Against Women coalition, also expressed concern for those students who felt forced to quit university after their experiences of assault and abuse were not ‘adequately’ dealt with.

Commenting on the lack of protection afforded to student victims of sexual assault, Green declared: ‘This cannot be allowed to continue.’

If you or someone you know has been a victim of sexual assault and/or harassment and would like support, the University’s Counselling, Health, and Wellbeing Service offer daily drop-in sessions, as well as general advice and guidance. The service employs a specialist trauma-trained therapist to work with students victims of sexual assault.

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