Research perspectives

Universities must to do more to support sexual harassment complaints

UK universities need to do more to avoid “failing sexual harassment victims”, according to research by the 1752 Group, funded by the Higher Education Funding Council for England. The researchers interviewed a small number of students and early career academics at 14 UK universities, and analysed 61 policies relating to sexual harassment at 25 higher education institutions.


The researchers found that, in the cases that they considered, there were weaknesses in the HEI’s procedures for reporting and investigating complaints. The failings identified in the cases reviewed included lack of clarity over reporting and support, lack of training for staff in relation to handling allegations and delays caused by parallel police and HR procedures. Concerns were also raised about the burden and stress placed on complainants caused by internal tribunal procedures and insufficient redress for complainants, who due to the confidentiality of the HR process were often left with no knowledge of the outcome.


They highlighted an “urgent” need to tackle “serial offenders”, noting that 12 of their 16 interviewees had said that the perpetrator had targeted at least one other woman. They laos found that only one of the perpetrators in the cases considered by the report was removed from post after disciplinary action, although another two resigned.


The report also raises concerns that a lack of clarity over the power of regulators to intervene, creating a perception that UK higher education institutions is “effectively being left to self regulate with minimal oversight or threat of legal challenge”.


The report makes a number of recommendations around better training for staff; better support and advocacy for those making allegations; better regulation; and greater availability of legal advice. Along with law firm McAllister Olivarius the 1752 Group has also produced draft guidelines for sexual misconduct investigation and interview processes.