Changing the Culture and Tackling Sexual Violence at UK Universities

Activity: Academic Talks or PresentationsOral presentationResearch


Introduction/ Background:
Sexual violence is a widespread issue on UK campuses. While not a new research concern,
universities have only recently begun to respond, despite being key sites for action. While they have
a duty of care for students, a gap often exists between legal requirements, experiences and
university responses. Despite recent action in this area, University responses have differed and there
is a strong need for research in this area.
Our mixed methods research involving questionnaires, interviews and focus groups triangulates
student perceptions, experiences, support-seeking and reporting preferences, with academic,
support staff and university manager perspectives. We aimed to understand sexual violence within
campus spaces, while implementing prevention measures to tackle these issues.
Our findings suggest sexual violence is prevalent, but many barriers to disclosure lead to low
reporting rates, with students not knowing where to seek support, lacking faith in existing
mechanisms, or relying on a hierarchy of severity in determining ‘acceptable’ behaviour. While
‘Consent’ related interventions create consent conversations on campus and address difficulties
young people have in negotiating consent, practices vary. Initiatives are viewed as an add-on to
programme curricula, with poor attendance and limited evaluation. Perceptions of prevalence also
vary because university managers can be detached from frontline student-facing staff experiences.
When support structures are not in place, staff seek informal disclosure or support routes, which is
further compounded by a blurring of responsibility between Universities and external support
We will argue that sexual violence is a pressing issue but, within changing HE landscapes, will remain
a low priority without joined up, campus-wide approach, driven by university managers, to embed
long-term, cultural changes. We provide key recommendations from our research for Universities
and provide an overview of our successes in changing policy within UK HEI. We will explain how this
work is guiding both HEFCE and the government’s ongoing work in this area, including our plans for
future research, including an evaluation of these measures and how we are ensuring the
sustainability of ongoing work in this area
Period21 Apr 2021
Event titleUoN Psychology Research Conference
Event typeConference
Degree of RecognitionLocal