Sexual Harassment and Violence in UK Higher Education

Monday, 16 July 2018: 10:30
Oral Presentation
Carolyn JACKSON, Lancaster University, United Kingdom
Vanita SUNDARAM, University of York, United Kingdom
This paper explores sexual harassment and violence in higher education, focusing primarily on research findings that highlight gaps in institutional knowledge about, perceptions of, and initiatives to address sexual harassment and violence.

The paper draws on data from a project that explored university staff perceptions and understandings of gender-based harassment and violence across 6 universities in England. Our research methods involved a combination of interviews and focus groups to explore the perspectives of staff with varying levels of responsibility for students in each institution. The staff who participated in the project ranged from senior management to security staff, resident tutors and Students’ Union staff. The sample institutions were selected on the basis of characteristics that are known to influence institutional culture, such as campus/non-campus status, socio-demographic mix and pre/post-1992 status.

Our findings suggest that, generally speaking, gender-based harassment and violence is poorly understood by staff working in higher education. While some staff recognise that harassing behaviour can involve the objectification and degradation of women in a range of forms, the root causes and origins of such behaviour is not well-understood. The majority of staff tend to employ a discourse of individualism in their discussions of sexual violence, theorising instances they had personally experienced as ‘misunderstandings’ or ‘mis-negotiations’ between individuals. Links to wider social and cultural inequalities and power relations were rarely made in their analyses of gender violence. Some staff narrated ‘laddish’ behaviours, often associated with violent misogyny and objectification of women, as a typical – sometimes desirable - aspect of the ‘male student experience’. Phipps (2016) has recently linked the neo-liberalisation of higher education to institutional cultures that are generative of structural and interpersonal violences; we will include discussion of this in our analyses.