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A shocking number of students have witnessed or been subjected to harassment on campus. Photo: weaver photo @Flickr

Inquiry into sexist “lad culture” at universities to be launched

The Business Secretary Sajid Javid has ordered an inquiry designed to drastically cut violence against women at universities.

The taskforce which will carry out this inquiry will work with crime prevention officers to combat the insidious culture of sexual harassment and violence that seems to be growing at UK universities.

Javid said he expected his daughters to feel as safe at university as his son, adding that “nobody should be put off going to university due to fears about their safety.

“This taskforce will ensure that universities have a plan to stamp out violence against women and provide a safe environment for all their students,” he said. “We do not tolerate this behaviour in any part of society and I’m not prepared to let it take place on university campuses unchecked.”

He wrote to Universities UK to order the probe, which will be set up in autumn and work for a full year.

The result could be that universities will receive a ranking based on their activity to combat the issue, and those who do the most to deal with violence against women will be given a certificate of approval.

Students’ Unions have welcomed this move, with Cambridge University’s Women’s Officer calling the culture of sexual violence a “pandemic.”

Concerns have been raised over the past few years over the alpha-male culture occasionally observable among students, including offensive chanting, groping, and unsolicited comments.

Research by the NUS recently showed that one-quarter of students have been inappropriately touched, while two-thirds had witnessed peers putting up with similar harassment. 37 per cent of women and 12 per cent of men had faced unwelcome sexual advances. Toni Pearce, then-President of the NUS, described sexual harassment as “rife on campus.”

Freshers’ Weeks across the country are recognised as being times when behaviour such as groping, harassment, and even sexual assault reach particularly high levels.

An e-mail sent to players at Pembroke College Oxford’s rugby club before a club social in 2013 with the subject line “FREE PUSSY” encouraged them to spike female freshers’ wine with a “substance of their choice,” with one member being told to bring a positive pregnancy test.

On her official Facebook page, Jess Lishak, Women’s Officer at the Students’ Union, said: “It’s really good that the government and Universities UK are taking notice of what women students have been saying for years. It’s amazing that the government have started to talk about a cultural change and are actually going to acknowledge and hopefully start to address the pandemic of sexual violence against women on campus, and hopefully in wider society.

“[However] I’m extremely sceptical about the idea of simply extending the state into universities when it comes to responding to sexual violence. It’s quite clear by looking at the extremely low reporting and conviction rates for sexual offences that the police and court systems don’t exactly have it right, and they’re supposed to be specially trained. I think it could be really dangerous to replicate this already broken system in universities.

“We need to be funding services for women and girls rather than cutting them. We need to be providing specialised support for people who have experienced sexual or domestic violence, whether or not they want to report it to the authorities.

“What we actually need is for the government, our universities and the people that have the most responsibility for public opinion—the media—to see violence against women for what it is: The symptoms of a society that breeds and allows hatred and disrespect for women. If the government really are concerned about tackling violence against women then they need to start by acknowledging this problem.

“I think this should start by commissioning some official, systematic research into the prevalence of sexual violence on our campuses and in societies. Violence against women should also be included in the official definition of Hate Crime so that these vital strategies and support services can be properly funded and further legitimised.”

Tags: catcalling, crackdown, groping, hate crime, inquiry, lad culture, sajid javid, sexual harassment, sexual violence, Women's officer

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