Sexual Violence: Challenges in Changing Campus Culture

Kimberley Hill, Melanie Crofts

Research output: Contribution to Book/ReportChapterpeer-review


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. Our research triangulates student perceptions, experiences, support-seeking and reporting preferences, with academic, support staff and university manager perspectives of sexual violence within campus spaces. This chapter provides a new commentary of our research, summarising our challenges, practical recommendations, experiences and successes in changing policy within UK HEI.
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 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 services.
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.

Key words: sexual violence, consent, universities, spaces, culture

Dr Kimberley M. Hill is an Associate Professor in Psychology at The University of Northampton and Deputy Subject Lead. Kimberley is a Senior Fellow of the Higher Education Academy, a Chartered Psychologist and Associate Fellow of the British Psychological Society. Her research expertise involves promoting health and preventing health risk in young people. As a National STEM Ambassador, Kimberley is dedicated to improving access to and dissemination of psychological knowledge.

Dr Melanie Crofts is an Associate Professor in Law at De Montfort University and the Director and Vice Chair of the Northamptonshire Rights and Equality Council. Melanie is a Fair Outcomes Champion for the Decolonising DMU project and her research expertise focuses on equality, diversity and discrimination in Higher Education. She is also a consultant trainer for the Football Association and sits on the Intersectionality Athena Swan Governance Committee subgroup for AdvanceHE.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationSexual misconduct in everyday academic spaces – experience and ethical dilemmas
EditorsErin Pritchard, Delyth Edwards
ISBN (Print)9781032277516
Publication statusPublished - 24 Mar 2023


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