‘Majority of university students’ exposed to unwanted sexual behaviour

More than half of university students in the UK have been exposed to unwanted sexual behaviour like inappropriate touching, explicit messages or being forced into sex, research claims.

A survey suggests 56% of those questioned had experienced unwanted behaviours ranging from cat-calling to being forced into sexual acts.

However, the data from sexual health and wellbeing charity Brook, distributed through the DigIn database, indicates only 8% of them have reported an offence.

The poll – believed to be the largest ever conducted on sexual harassment among UK university students – of 5,649 university students found that only 25% of those who were forced into having sex (2%) went on to report it.

More than half (53%) of the 3,136 who experienced unwanted sexual behaviour, said it was from another student.

Thirty per cent of the incidents took place on campus.

The data showed that only 3% of the women (26%) who were sent sexually explicit messages reported it.

Almost half (49%) of the 3,732 women who took part in the survey said they were inappropriately touched with just 5% reporting the incident.

Of the 56% who experienced unwanted sexual behaviours, only 15% realised it counted as sexual harassment.

When it came to consent, only 52% of the respondents understood it is not possible to give consent if you are drunk.

The survey showed that relationships and sex education (RSE) is still heavily focused on STIs and pregnancy, with only half of those surveyed having received information on consent and 31% on harassment.

Helen Marshall, chief executive of Brook, said: “If ever there was a reminder of the importance of high quality, comprehensive relationships and sex education (RSE) in schools and universities – this is it.

“We are failing our young people if they don’t know that the law protects them from the unwanted behaviours they are experiencing.

“Furthermore, we are failing to equip and empower young people to navigate their sexual lives and relationships.”

A spokeswoman for Universities UK (UUK) said: “The well-being of students is a top priority for universities, and they continue to work to make their institutions safer places to live, work and study so that no student or member of staff is subject to any form of sexual violence or misconduct.

“Every case is one too many and more can be done.

“It is important to create an environment where students feel able to come forward with the confidence that an incident will be addressed, meaning research like this from Brook – although based on a self-selecting sample – forms an important part of making progress.

“UUK continues to work with the sector and will publish recommendations in the spring on what further action is necessary to drive improvement in this important agenda.”

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