Oxford University sees fifteen fold rise in sexual harassment and violence allegations in a year

Camilla Turner
·3-min read
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Oxford University has seen a fifteen fold rise in sexual harassment and violence allegations in the space of a year, a report has found.

The largest cluster of students who sought help from the university's specialist support service were undergraduates who had experienced rape or sexual assault during their freshers’ week.

The university launched a dedicated sexual harassment and violence support service in October 2018, and had now published a report into its work so far.

The service received 167 referrals for sexual harassment and violence between October 2018 and the August 2019, which was a “significant increase” compared to the previous year where only 11 cases were recorded, according to the report.

Authors of the report noted that the perception that sexual violence means “stranger rape in an alley is largely incorrect”.

They went on: “Instances of sexual violence in Oxford match that of the true picture with instances occurring between people who are known to one another.

“Our initial expectation was that a majority of cases would relate to recent [less than a week old] incidents, however the casework so far has predominantly related to incidents that occurred six months to one year previously.

“Indeed the largest individual group of students seeking support are second year undergraduate coming to speak about an incident of rape or sexual assault that happened in or around fresher’s week the previous year.”

Dr Anna Bull, founder of The 1752 Group which campaigns against social misconduct, said that several studies show that when students are in their first year at university they are “more likely to experience sexual violence”.

She said: “The high demand for this service confirms what we already know – that when universities set up support services for sexual violence they will receive a high level of disclosures.

“This doesn’t mean that they have a bigger problem than previously – it means more students are getting support who wouldn’t have done previously. This is very positive.”

A separate report published by Oxford University showed that 12 per cent of students are now using counsellors, with anxiety cited as the most common issue.

Of those using the service, 30 per cent said they suffered from anxiety, 20 per cent from depression and mood change or disorder and 11 per cent from relationship issues.  

Earlier this year, the higher education watchdog said that universities which fail to deal with harassment and sexual misconduct could be fined up to £500,000.

Institutions which are "letting down" students with "ineffective and inadequate" mechanisms for dealing with incidents face crippling financial penalties and even their public funding being cut off, the Office for Students warned in January.

The watchdog put forward a set of proposals which lay out how reports should be handled, and advised universities to provide consent classes and training for witnesses.  

Gillian Hamnett, Oxford University’s director of student welfare and support services, said that the response to their Sexual Violence and Harassment Service is “encouraging”.  

She said: “Supporting the wellbeing, safety and mental health of all of our students is always a key priority for the University.  

“The University continues to work in collaboration with local services like OSARCC [the Oxfordshire Sexual Abuse and Rape Crisis Centre] to provide support to anyone affected by these incidents.”