How UK institutions fail students of colour who have survived sexual harassment and assault on campus.
Completing a university degree is strenuous. Being a student of colour navigating the aftermath of sexual harassment and assault? Even more so. Especially when most UK institutions suffer from a chronic lack of diversity. Race intersects with sexuality in a number of ways, all of which are harmful. For example, the racist stereotyping of Black people as hypersexual deviants. In the public consciousness this can be seen through the experience of Terry Crews, who spoke openly on twitter about his genitals being molested by a Hollywood executive.
The myth of the black body as a vessel for sexual desire has had unconscionable consequences. Studies found that in the US, not only were Black women who spoke out against sexual assault less likely to be believed (Tilman et al. 2010), but perpetrators were likely to receive a shorter sentence if they had assaulted a Black woman rather than a White one. These are worrying statistics when considering that UK students are twice as likely to be sexually assaulted as the general population (ONS 2017). It is very likely that unless there is significant reform, Black students being assaulted at university will fall by the wayside.
Furthermore, Asian students appear to be disproportionately targeted. When exploring peer harassment in American Ivy-League institutions, Dr Susan Marine concluded that nearly one-third of reports of sexual misconduct were made by Asian and Asian-American women. Reportedly, there was a racist stereotype held by harassers that this group would be easier to exploit (Cantalupo 2019). Clearly, for students of colour, harassment is often an inherently intersectional experience. By ignoring this fact, university policy will never be adequately equipped to handle instances of assault in their institutions.
UK institutions need to step up their game and start addressing the specific needs of their students on campus.
Unfortunately, it seems that for universities in the UK to ignore this is commonplace. The Universities UK Taskforce found a significant lack of information on this topic from higher education institutions, despite evidence suggesting that some students were targeted on the basis of their faith and ethnicity. They argued female Muslim students in the UK were particularly at risk of race hate crimes (Universities UK 2016). By consciously overlooking these factors, universities are doing their students from minority backgrounds a significant disservice, bordering on negligence. The failure to collect detailed data on this topic means that an already difficult issue becomes even more taxing to navigate.
Addressing intersectional experiences of sexual misconduct in universities is essential. Despite being more likely to be targeted as a result of their ethnicity or faith, many students of colour are reluctant to report their experiences to their institutions (Tilman et al. 2010). Can you blame them? The toll to the mental health of survivors is often substantial, with the actual action taken by universities being slim to nothing. The result?
Survivors of sexual misconduct on campus often recount tales of being ignored by their institutions, or worse, told that their experiences didn’t matter. In order to achieve equality on campus, universities need to address the unique needs of students of colour who are survivors of assault. Students from South Asian backgrounds are less likely to report assault for a number of reasons, including modesty, honour and fear of not being believed (University of Hull 2018). Students identifying as black related fears that their reports would not be addressed.
By addressing these issues and accommodating victims through the reporting process, universities can better ensure the safety and wellbeing of their students. This will be essential in creating a safe and positive academic environment in the years to come.
Cantalupo, N. C. (2019) ‘And even more of us are brave: Intersectionality and sexual harassment of women students of color’ Harvard Journal of Law & Gender, 42 https://poseidon01.ssrn.com/delivery.php?ID=712085084074107101028095018067072002122081004009095091026103094078100115069008006026018029054101050127023022082093103125005079058082046034028098109099097028097010039021095116068124014088120091122113111029121088080105066065005081105006105113025099115&EXT=pdf
Cantalupo, N. C. (2020) ‘Title IX & The Civil Rights Approach to Sexual Harassment in Education’ Roger Williams University Law Review, 25.2 https://docs.rwu.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1697&context=rwu_LR
Mumford, G. (2017) ‘Actor Terry Crews: I was sexually assaulted by Hollywood executive’ The Guardian Website https://www.theguardian.com/film/2017/oct/11/actor-terry-crews-sexually-assaulted-by-hollywood-executive
OFS. (2020) ‘OfS Consultation on harassment and sexual misconduct in higher education’ Consultation 09.01.20-27.03.20 https://www.officeforstudents.org.uk/media/76f6bdd3-bb14-4956-b089-cd1598323d55/consultation-on-harassment-and-sexual-misconduct-in-higher-education.pdf
ONS. (2017) ‘Sexual offences in England and Wales: year ending March 2017’ ONS Wesbite https://www.ons.gov.uk/peoplepopulationandcommunity/crimeandjustice/articles/sexualoffencesinenglandandwales/yearendingmarch2017
Tillman, S. et al. (2010) ‘Shattering silence: exploring barriers to disclosure for African American sexual assault survivors.’ Trauma, Violence & Abuse, 11:2 https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/10.1177/1524838010363717
Universities UK Taskforce. (2016) ‘Changing the Culture: Report of the Universities UK Taskforce examining violence against women, harassment and hate crime affecting university students’ https://www.universitiesuk.ac.uk/policy-and-analysis/reports/Documents/2016/changing-the-culture.pdf
University of Hull. (2018) ‘Sexual Abuse Underreported in British South Asian Communities’ University of Hull website https://www.hull.ac.uk/work-with-us/more/media-centre/news/2018/sexual-abuse-underreported-in-british-south-asian-communities