Study: A third of female university students face unwanted sexual advances

A UK poll reveals that rape culture and campus sexual assault crises know no international bounds

Published September 15, 2014 2:41PM (EDT)


More than one-third of female university students have experienced unwanted physical sexual advances at some point during their academic careers, according to a new poll by the UK's National Union of Students. According to the report, nearly a quarter of students, regardless of gender, have been sexually harassed in some form, and two-thirds had seen at least one other student deal with unwanted sexual attention. NUS refers to the problem as one of "lad culture"; in the U.S., it's viewed by some as the roots of the country's campus sexual assault crisis.

According to the Guardian, study participants exhibited an awareness of cultural messages that can be demeaning to women, in particular, but still showed little knowledge of how to report sexual harassment:

More than a third of respondents were aware of promotional materials around their university that had [sexualized] images of women, with 51% of women and 33% of men agreeing that the images made them feel uncomfortable. Examples included naked pictures of women accompanying a call for more photos of "top student totty," and girls pictured kissing on a flyer.

Three-quarters were aware of online communities such as Uni Lad andThe Lad Bible, aimed at male students, which 63% of women and 43% of men felt contributed to an unfair representation of women.

In contrast, the study revealed a worrying lack of awareness among students of reporting procedures or provisions to prohibit and tackle such [behavior] – 60% said they were unaware of any codes of conduct at their university or student union.

NUS and other groups are using the survey results as a call to action for university administrations, urging campuses to address commonplace sexual harassment. With rates of college sexual violence comparable to those in the United States, the UK poll shows that the campus sexual assault crisis is full-blown internationally. The organization's president, Toni Pearce, said the NUS findings should be an important call to action for all campus leaders, not just in the UK.

"These stats show that harassment is rife on campus, but we still keep hearing from universities that there is no fear, no intimidation, no problem -- well this new research says otherwise," Pearce said. "Sadly, all of these elements exist in campus life, we know because we hear it from students. Today I say to universities everywhere the pass the buck approach of 'not on my campus' is now completely unacceptable. They must acknowledge the problems and join us in confronting them."

By Jenny Kutner

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