Research by NUS Women’s Campaign finds that sexual harassment is rife in the lives of further education students, at their colleges, on social media and in public spaces.
Experiences of unwanted sexual behaviour are commonplace for women to further education students, in particular, leading to the normalisation of sexual violence.
The report used two approaches to understand students’ experiences of sexual harassment and violence: a survey of 544 UK-based students in further education and three focus groups at further education colleges. The survey grouped unwanted sexualised behaviour and experiences into four sections: sexual harassment; domestic abuse; sexual assault; and rape.
Key findings were as follows:
- Overall, 75% of respondents to our survey had had an unwanted sexual experience at least once.
- 3 in 10 students (28%) had been pressured to establish an unwanted sexual or romantic relationship.
- 1 in 7 respondents (14%) had experienced attempted rape/unwanted sexual intercourse.
- 1 in 3 experiences of sexual harassment took place at college, of which 87% occurred outside class.
- Only 14% of those who had experienced any form of unwanted sexual behaviour reported it.
- Over a third of respondents felt anxious, distanced themselves, avoided social events or had felt depressed, because of this behaviour. Particularly concerning were those students who had considered suicide (15%), self-harm (13%) or even attempted suicide (7%)
- Experiences of sexual violence were heavily gendered with women significantly more likely to experience sexual harassment on social media, in public spaces, report fearing their partner and experience unwanted sexual intercourse/rape than men.
- Friends, acquaintances, romantic partners and other further education students were commonly responsible for incidents of sexual violence and harassment. Students often cited fear over someone else’s reaction as a reason for not challenging unwanted sexual experiences.
- Bisexual students were significantly more likely than other sexual orientations to say their embarrassment was their reason for not reporting an incident to anyone.
- Disabled students were significantly more likely than non-disabled respondents to have experienced several forms of sexual misconduct at least once.
NUS Women Student’s Officer, Sarah Lasoye said: ‘This is NUS’s first targeted piece of research into sexual harassment and violence specifically within further education. It allows us to see how these issues present within the further education context; investigating what type of abuse students have faced, and what impact these behaviours had on them.
‘The findings show we need urgent responses to tackle sexual harassment and violence in further education institutions. This culture has been normalised to such an extent that unhealthy sexual behaviour has become harder to identify. While students may understand the concept of consent they struggle to put it into practice, with women fearing revenge and anger from men, and LGBT+ and disabled students at the sharpest end of sexual violence. The sooner we can open up our understanding of feminism and educate young people on sexual harassment and assault, along with healthy and transformative gender relations, the sooner we will be able to eradicate the toxic behaviours and attitudes that replicate and concretise themselves in the minds of young people.’
Recommendations include: developing robust policies and reporting procedures to tackle sexual harassment and violence that interlink with broader institutional policies; reviewing support services centring on student survivors’ welfare and well-being; and, promoting alternative masculinities and providing workshops on consent and healthy relationships.
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