Almost one third of female students at the University of Bath have been victims of sexual harassment yet only one in ten of total victims reported it, a new survey reveals.
Approximately 31% of female respondents said they had felt victim of ‘unwanted physical, verbal or non-verbal conduct of a sexual nature’ in a survey carried out by the University of Bath Students’ Union as part of a new campaign to tackle ‘Lad Culture’ within the institution.
The figures, obtained exclusively by bathimpact, also state that 73% of female students had been grouped, pinched or touched inappropriately and 77% had been the target of sexualised comments.
Combined with male cases of sexual harassment, the figure decreases to 17%. Of this number, only 8% of total harassment victims reported it, something Izzy Green, Campaigns Officer for the University of Bath Gender Equality Group and participant in the University of Bath Students’ Union Lad Culture Strategy Group called “entirely worrying”.
She went on to say, “Dismissing such actions as ‘harmless banter’ normalises sexual harassment and objectification, and contributes to the rhetoric that women’s bodies are public property, open to comment, criticism or physical contact regardless of the woman’s wishes.”
Despite the worrying results, around 29% felt ‘Lad Culture’ was prevalent at the University, a figure which rises to 34% when only female responses are taken into account.
The results highlight a wide gap in the experiences of male and female students, with 5% of male students having experienced sexual harassment and 33% having been victim to ‘inappropriate groping or pinching’.
It will also raise questions as to how students perceive the notion of harassment with clear discrepancies rising between those who have been ‘groped’ or ‘verbally’ targeted and those who believed they had been sexually abused by such acts.
Tommy Parker, the SU Community Officer, said of the low reporting of harassment, “The results are startling, with so many students experiencing sexual harassment but only a small percentage actually reporting it shows we need to have a culture change, both to stop these incidences and for students to feel comfortable in reporting such acts. These results reaffirm the need for something to change and will remain one of the Students’ Unions top priorities.”
The survey, which saw 1,936 (53% male, 44% female and 3% other or preferred not to say) respondents, also aimed to access the behaviour of University students, highlighting a number of attitudes associated with ‘Lad Culture’.
Amongst these were; 26% agreeing it was acceptable to laugh about people’s sex lives; 23% about a person’s appearance and 13% about making fun of people’s speech . It also indicated that 28% of people believed encouraging people to drink was acceptable, with 22% strongly disagreeing.
However students were more inclined to use the word ‘banter’, with 59% suggesting its usage was acceptable. The word has often been associated with ‘Lad Culture’ as a justification for questionable behaviour, perhaps explaining why 8% saw it as ‘never acceptable’.
On discrimination, the report most poignantly remarks that 26% of students have felt discriminated because of their gender, 18% because of their social class and 19% because they do not drink.
Meanwhile, those who had been discriminated due to their religion or race was at 7%, with those targeted due to their sexuality 5%. The results did not quantify how figures differentiate within individual minority groups at the University.
University of Bath Students’ Union President Jordan Kenny said on the results, “The figures are a call to action. Anyone with any doubt that that sexual harassment, racism, homophobia and ableism exist must look at this survey.
“No one should have their University experience tarnished by the small-minded behaviour of others. To excuse any kind of discrimination or harassment as ‘a bit of fun’ is entirely wrong and we will now work on improving how we tackle ‘Lad Culture’ at Bath,” he went on to say.
Mr Kenny spoke with bathimpact on the policies the University will now put in place, the full interview of which can be found on page five.
The figures emerge as the SU launches a campaign aimed at tackling ‘Lad Culture’ within the University, a topic which has recently received national attention.
In September last year, the National Union of Students (NUS) launched a national strategy team on ‘Lad Culture’ as it emerged one in four students had experienced unwelcome sexual advances.
This was emphasised as high-profile stories emerged from Exeter, Nottingham and LSE, including revelations at the latter institution that members of the rugby team had ‘blacked up’ and distributed ‘sexist’ literature at a Freshers’ Fair.
At the University of Bath, a chant allegedly sung by members the rugby team on public transport in October made references to both ‘rape’ and ‘abortion’.
In a separate incident, bathimpact obtained footage of the University of Bath Association Football and Futsal Club talking about their “initiations”. In the video, the individuals claimed to have “eaten fish”, “drank piss”, vomited and “downed all sorts”.
Universities have come under pressure to tackle the issue after NUS President Toni Pearce accused higher educational facilities of ignoring the issue.
Ms Pearce told the BBC in September last year that “we still keep hearing from universities that there is no fear, no intimidation, no problem”, concluding “they must acknowledge the problems and join us in confronting them.”
The University of Bath SU hope that the new ‘Counter the Culture’ campaign, launching Monday 9th February, will help demonstrate the Union’s commitment to raising awareness of the issues, with testimonies, a debate on the topic, as well as a pledge aimed at both individual students and student groups amongst some of the events planned.
How do you tackle a culture? Well, first you define it.
The Students’ Union has aimed to do just that, grouping a number of attitudes, actions and language into the often undefinable realm of ‘Lad Culture’.
They have had to be cautious, however, stepping away from the presumed ‘sport-lad’ link, rather making the assertion that ‘Lad Culture’ is not unique to any group, person or – most interestingly – gender.
But the survey has highlighted that it is women who are, as often asserted, the main victims of ‘Lad Culture’. A third of female students having been sexually harassed is a sobering and difficult to swallow statistic.
Now the SU must get students to acknowledge the ‘culture’ they are aiming to tackle actually exists; no mean feat given that only 29% of respondents believed the issue is prevalent. And once they’ve accepted the problem, campaigning for change in attitudes could prove equally difficult.
In regards to these attitudes, one certain fact emerges: the University of Bath is split on what constitutes ‘acceptable behaviour’.
What remains to emerge are the statistics on where sexual harassment has been most common; a fact which could help narrow the definition and allow for more targeted action.
This action however will no doubt be of great interest to both sides of the ‘Lad Culture’. Some campaigners are already calling for far more vigorous investigations into alleged incidents, seeing some groups as untouchable. Meanwhile any attempts to change behaviour might be perceived as overly assertive or ‘politically correct’ by the Students’ Union.
Needless to say, there will always remain one side of the debate unhappy with whatever the SU decides to do.
Also under scrutiny are what actions the Students’ Union will take if it emerges that SU-backed events or club nights are implicated in the harassment claims. If a number of students have been ‘groped’ or ‘touched’ at SCORE, for example, is the SU already at fault for allowing such actions to take place just twenty meters from the President’s door?
Until those statistics come in, however, the conversation will continue. Most importantly, is ‘Lad Culture’ at fault, or are we simply pinning far greater, underlining problems on something that might not even exist?
The SU’s #CountertheCulture campaign runs from the 9th February to the 13th February. If you want to get involved visit their webpage.
You can have a look at the raw data, exclusive to bathimpact, click here: Lad Culture information – bathimpact.