Sexual assault is a common phenomenon in universities, that it almost feels epidemic. It’s a notoriously hard thing to measure but one estimate suggests that as many as one in four students will be subjected to a serious sexual assault before they graduate. Although sexual harassment and sexual violence can happen to anyone, university and college women are disproportionately affected, impeding their safety, comfort, access to education, and ability to participate in campus life.
Men who sexually assault don’t understand that such behavior is in dispute with the law. Sexual assault, a type of sexual violence, is a term that applies to a broad range of forced and unwanted sexual activity. It includes attempted rape — unwanted fondling or sexual touching — and rape, generally defined as penetration of a victim’s body against their will. Sexual assault can involve forcing someone into non-consensual sexual acts by way of manipulation, physical or emotional coercion, or psychological force, including threats or other means of intimidation. Whatever form sexual assault takes, it’s important for victims to realize that it’s not their fault.
Misconceptions around consent, sexual assault, and even rape are inescapable and far too common. It’s almost become normalized, an accepted part of student life. In other words, universities are failing to cope with sexual assault cases.
“The entire pastoral system is failing its student body. I had to go through months of meetings and emails while trying to balance my studies with my deteriorating mental state, something which significantly impacted my grades”, said Bryony Chellew, a second-year student from the University of Bristol.
The impact this has on students cannot be overestimated. Alongside significant consequences for self-confidence, mental health, and social life, many students simply feel unable to continue their studies. A quarter of respondents who had experienced sexual violence said they had skipped lectures and tutorials, or dropped modules to avoid perpetrators; 16% suspended their studies or dropped out altogether.
Students need to know what to do in case of being sexually assaulted. But they also need to know when they’ve been sexually assaulted. One particularly striking statistic from Revolt Sexual Assault’s study is that 56% of students believed that their experience “wasn’t serious enough” to warrant reporting. It’s important for students to be aware that any experience of sexual violence is worthy of time, attention and resolution.
If you have faced sexual harassment or sexual violence, you can file an internal complaint with your school, and your school can take steps to prevent further harassment. Those steps could include changing your class schedule, prohibiting the perpetrator from contacting you or even taking disciplinary action against the perpetrator. If you believe your school has failed to investigate complaints or protect its students, you can also file a complaint to the competent institution (Department of Education etc.) in the country you’re living in.