UUK publishes report on tackling violence against women, harassment and hate crime in universities

On Friday 21 October 2016, Universities UK (UUK) published a long-awaited report entitled “Changing the Culture: Report of the Universities UK Taskforce examining violence against women, harassment and hate crime affecting university students”, which deals with all forms of harassment albeit with a particular focus on sexual harassment.

In brief, the report makes the following recommendations on what universities need do to tackle sexual violence, harassment and hate crime:

  • Recognise the problem and commit themselves to addressing it, including by allocating adequate resources;
  • Adopt an institution-wide approach;
  • Carry out regular impact assessments and ensure regular reporting to governing bodies on incidents, action taken and resources available;
  • Involve students’ unions;
  • Specify what behaviour is expected from students, with corresponding sanctions, in all partnership agreements with students;
  • Develop a bystander intervention programme;
  • Promote a zero-tolerance culture by embedding and reinforcing a zero-tolerance approach in all institutional activities and ensuring that staff understand the importance of such culture;
  • Have clear and accessible procedures for responding to sexual violence. A care pathway needs to clearly describe the university’s support structure and external services students should be referred to;
  • Provide specialised staff training which can be organised jointly with other universities;
  • Implement a centralised reporting system which permits students to report using different methods, including anonymous reporting, and which enables accurate data collection;
  • Establish partnerships with local specialist services as well as maintain strong links with local police and NHS.

The report also suggests that there should be sharing of good practices between institutions, both nationally and internationally. It states that UUK should hold an annual conference for the next three years to facilitate such exchange and publish a directory of case studies and templates based on what is already being done in the sector.

With regard to online harassment and hate crime, of which there is increasing awareness, the report concedes that the nature and scale of such abuse still needs to be studied and recommends that UUK should work with the National Union of Students and other relevant organisations to examine what support can be provided.

A chapter of the report is dedicated specifically to addressing sexual violence. It recognises that a university’s response could have a strong impact on the well being of the victim and suggests that an institution-wide approach should consider both the short and medium term educational needs as well as the wider needs of victims. Universities must also assess their responsibilities toward staff and students accused of sexual violence.

It is suggested that universities should have a clear strategic response framework which:

  • Provides for accountability, primarily by nominating a senior member of staff to be accountable for the institution’s response;
  • Identifies risks and the processes in which they arise;
  • Is linked to the corporate governance framework and provides for regular updates to members who have a legal duty to eliminate discrimination and harassment;
  • Should be embedded across key functions and staff groups;
  • Provides for a response that is tailored to every individual case.

The report states that all the policies and procedures of the institution need to be aligned so that there is a single coherent approach. Having an institution-wide approach requires that the university’s students’ union is involved in order to ensure that there are no inconsistencies between the approach of the university and that of the union.

Finally the report addresses concerns about the relevance of the ‘Zellick guidelines’ to the issue of addressing sexual harassment incidents which amount to criminal offences, suggesting that these should be reviewed. The Zellick guidelines are widely considered as seeking to protect institutions more than their students, and are thought of as being overly simplistic and outdated (preceding the Human Rights Act 1998, the Equality Act 2010, and the significant changes in the technological and social context in which universities operate).

On the same day the report was published, UUK also published a new “Guidance for Higher Education Institutions: How to Handle Alleged Student Misconduct Which May Also Constitute a Criminal Offence”.

Lauro Fava
T: 0121 631 5245
E: lauro.fava@shma.co.uk
W: www.shma.co.uk
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