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Sexual harassment in further education: rife

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Sexual Violence in Further Education, sutdy, NUS, report, This culture has been normalised to such an extent that unhealthy sexual behaviour has become harder to identify.

Research by NUS Women’s Campaign has found that sexual harassment is rife in the lives of further education students, at their colleges, on social media and public space.

Experiences of unwanted sexual behaviour were reported as commonplace for women in further education, students in particular, leading to the normalisation of sexual violence.

The report, ‘Sexual Violence in Further Education: A study of students’ experiences and perceptions of sexual harassment, violence and domestic abuse in further education’, 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.

Overall, 75 per cent of respondents to the survey had had an unwanted sexual experience at least once.

Three in ten students (28 per cent) had been pressured to establish an unwanted sexual or romantic relationship;

One in seven respondents (14 per cent) had experienced attempted rape/unwanted sexual intercourse;

One in three experiences of sexual harassment took place at college, of which 87 per cent occurred outside class;

Some 9 per cent of unwanted sexual comments were received from a figure of authority (such as a boss or tutor) and this group were also responsible for 4 per cent of incidents where respondents had been both pressured into a relationship and threatened for being sexually uncooperative by them.

Only 14 per cent 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 per cent)/ self-harm (13 per cent) or even attempted suicide (7 per cent);

Experiences of sexual violence were heavily gendered, with women significantly more likely to experience sexual harassment on social media, in public space, 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 significantly more likely than other sexual orientations to say their embarrassment was their reason for not reporting an incident to anyone; and

Disabled students were significantly more likely than non-disabled respondents to have experienced several forms of sexual misconduct at least once.

Beyond the direct experiences of unwanted sexual behaviour, the report’s findings also allude to several factors that create a wider environment that tolerates and normalises them, sometimes referred to as ‘rape culture’.

Respondents consistently reported high rates of awareness of the prevalence of unwanted sexual behaviours. Younger respondents – those aged 22 and younger – were significantly more likely to know of peers who had experienced a number of described unwanted sexual behaviours.

Respondents were less likely to consider the behaviour included in the domestic abuse section as constituting domestic abuse compared with behaviour in other sections; sexual harassment, sexual assault and rape. If domestic abuse and sexual harassment are considered everyday part of college life, these acts become invisible and therefore harder to prevent and tackle.

Participants spoke frequently about difficulties in challenging unwanted behaviour, even from their romantic partners.

Fear of someone else’s reaction often governed students’ decision not to question unwanted behaviour, ranging from fear of emotional abuse to fear of violence.

They found consent difficult to navigate in relationships, where there was pressure from their partner to engage in sexual activity.

While experiencing challenges in navigating consent, women respondents were largely confident that they knew what consent looks like and how it should operate with a partner but articulated being unable to put this knowledge into practice.

The report makes several recommendations about what to do about this, and these include: developing robust policies and reporting procedures to tackle sexual harassment and violence that interlink with broader institutional policies; reviewing support services centering on student survivors’ welfare and wellbeing; promoting alternative masculinities; and providing workshops on consent and healthy relationships.

NUS Women Students Officer Sarah Lasoye said: “This is NUS’ 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.”

To read the full report, click here.

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