Report shows how violence against women is affecting university students

21 October 2016

Al Jones, one of Girlguiding's British Youth Council Delegates, comments on Universities UK Taskforce’s report and how its findings support our campaign against sexual harassment in schools

As a young woman it is concerning - but ultimately not surprising - to see the Universities UK Taskforce report examining violence against women, harassment and hate crime affecting university students.
The report acknowledges how widespread this is and how much work needs to be done by universities to both prevent and respond to this properly. So it’s great to see their recommendations for tackling this behaviour and the institution-wide approach needed to address it.
I know from experience that sexual harassment happens on a daily basis at universities. It’s normal for me and my friends to plan strategies to get away from unwarranted attention, or to form a pack around someone who is being propositioned or worse when we’re on a night out. It is completely normal for me to change my outfit multiple times in case it is seen as an invitation to grope me.
People who don’t understand the impact of this sort of pressure may find it hard to understand why young women have to resort to such drastic measures. But these precautions are seen as a common response to harassment for thousands of young women across the UK.
In Girlguiding’s 2016 Girls’ Attitudes Survey, we found that only 44% of girls aged 13 to 21 think people their age clearly understand what sexual consent means. These girls also told us that improving young people's understanding of sexual consent was one of the top three actions they felt would better the lives of girls and young women.
Therefore, 18 really is too late to try and convince young people that sexual harassment is unacceptable - or to teach people what consent is. The consequences of this problem affect young people long before they even reach university. We’ve seen from Girls’ Attitudes Survey that 75% of girls and young women say anxiety about experiencing sexual harassment negatively affects their lives in some way - including making them think twice about raising their hand in class.
All girls and young women deserve to feel safe and happy at school and university. This is why Girlguiding Advocates launched a petition in September calling for an end to sexual harassment in schools and urging government ministers to take action. All schools have a duty to prevent and tackle sexual harassment and to be held accountable but for this to work there needs to be national guidance to ensure schools know how to take a zero tolerance approach.
If we can ensure compulsory, high-quality Relationships and Sex Education is taught in all schools, covering consent, online abuse, gender equality and healthy relationships, in five years’ time we won’t have to be hearing the same concerns from young women about their experiences at university.

Read more about the Advocates' campaign

We're calling on governments to take action to prevent and tackle sexual harassment in all schools.