Universities ‘letting star academics get away with sexual assault’

Universities let academics with “intellect and star quality” get away with “endemic” sexual assault, a report has concluded.

The University and College Union (UCU) surveyed nearly 4,000 university and college staff and published its findings today, in what it hailed as a “groundbreaking report” which highlighted a “culture of protecting predators” which can “ruin careers and ruin lives”.

It found that sexual violence is “endemic” at universities, with one in 10 staff assaulted at work but only half reporting incidents over the past five years. It also found that 12 per cent of women and 5 per cent of men had directly experienced workplace sexual violence.

Of them, 52 per cent did not disclose or report it to their employer and 70 per cent experienced sexual violence as an ongoing pattern of behaviour rather than a one-off incident.

Power imbalance

Jo Grady, general secretary of the UCU, said that there was often a perception of perpetrators being “untouchable”. “This is one of the more widespread components of sexual violence, harassment and bullying.

“Often there’s power imbalance between perpetrators and predators [and their victims] and intellect and star quality are used as reasons to allow them to maintain positions of responsibility.”

She added that there are “many promising young women whose careers are “completely ruined by predatory male academics who have been protected” and that they “either stay in their roles or go on elsewhere and potentially terrorise a whole new group of people over years”.

The UCU general secretary said that “there is a culture of protecting predators” because often they “bring in big research money and get those research grants and publications”.

Those on non-permanent contracts at higher risk

“Sexual violence is commonplace and current responses are simply inadequate. It’s widespread in terms of education and its networks – for example, conferences – and failures to tackle the prevalence, scale and harm of it,” she concluded.

The UCU report also found that staff on non-permanent contracts were 1.3 times as likely to experience direct sexual violence than those in permanent roles, while workers who are trans and non-binary were at higher risk of directly experiencing sexual violence (1.3 times as likely).

In UK universities alone, almost 100,000 academic and academic-related staff are on these insecure contracts.

The study also discovered that staff with disabilities were twice as likely to experience direct sexual violence years as non-disabled staff, and workers with a sexual orientation other than heterosexual were almost twice as likely to directly experience sexual violence than their heterosexual peers.

‘Oh, that’s just the boys’

Survivors of sexual violence gave evidence to the report. One survivor noted: “His boss said it was ‘just the way he was’ without ever taking action”, while another said: “The senior managers were aware, encouraged it, laughed at it and made it ‘ok’ and ‘acceptable’ […], ‘oh, that’s just the boys’ or ‘that’s just [person’s name]’.”

Another added: “I didn’t report the incident. This was a member of the senior leadership team with a reputation of being untouchable due his charm and charisma […]. I wish it was a more supportive environment where I felt I could have raised it.’”

The UCU makes a number of recommendations for employers to implement, including abandoning the use of non-disclosure agreements (NDAs) with perpetrators, disclosing outcomes of complaints to survivors, and including information about disciplinary proceedings in references provided for perpetrators.

It also called for universities and colleges to provide counselling for employees who complain about sexual violence and those who act as representatives in sexual violence cases in the workplace.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *