Government to investigate violence against women in universities

Tonicha Upham 9 September 2015

Sajid Javid, the Government's Business Secretary, has called for the creation of a taskforce to look into the prevalence of violence towards women in Britain's universities, just weeks after a CUSU report highlighted the issue at Cambridge University.

The taskforce, which is expected to convene this autumn and will be led by Universities UK, will work over the course of a year to develop a code of practice to support cultural change, explore how to improve engagement with Crime Prevention Officers, and improve complaints mechanisms.

CEO of Universities UK, Nicola Dandridge, discussed the issues surrounding lad culture and violence towards women in a blog post last week: "We need open and honest discussions about what “lad culture” means and where the boundaries of acceptability are. Issues of free speech are relevant here, with the right to free speech being fundamental to the identity of universities. So where, for instance, should the line be drawn along a spectrum of drink-fuelled pranks, offensive comments and misogynistic banter? Where do offensive but arguably legitimate comments turn into unacceptable conduct?"

Research by both CUSU and the NUS has repeatedly demonstrated the gravity of this issue; CUSU Women's Campaign's 2014 report, 'Cambridge Speaks Out', found that 77% of respondents had experienced sexual harassment, whilst 80% of respondents had not reported an incident which had taken place. 

In August, a report released by CUSU Women's Campaign highlighted this issue again: "While it is not the case that gendered violence is necessarily more common at Cambridge, the current support and reporting mechanisms, and the structures of our communities contribute to a culture which marginalises and silences survivors, likely with a subsequent impact on their academic success. The small size of college communities inhibits reporting because of the difficulty of preserving anonymity and because the people involved in reporting structures may already have an established relationship with the person reporting and the person accused."

Charlotte Chorley, CUSU Women's Officer, is positive about this development, commenting: "This is a great step, and I really welcome any investigation that sheds light on the worryingly prevalent issue of sexual violence and harassment on university campuses… Lad culture and rape culture are insidious, and ubiquitous, and tackling them is essential to protect the health, wellbeing and success of women students."

She continued: "It is fantastic that this is finally being recognised as a pandemic, however it is a shame that it has taken so long."

A Cambridge University spokesman contacted about the government's announcement said that support for students within this university is "unparalleled", but welcomed the establishing of the taskforce: "We are aware this is an issue for higher education establishments globally. We take the issue of student safety very seriously and seek to be at the forefront of developments in this area and we look forward to working with the Government task force and hearing its recommendations."