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Our new research on sexual harassment and violence at UK universities

Our new research shows, more than half of UK university students across the country are being exposed to unwanted sexual behaviours such as inappropriate touching, explicit messages, cat-calling, being followed and / or being forced into sex or sexual acts – yet only 8% have reported an offence.  

Designed by Brook and distributed though the Dig-In database, the survey of 5,649 UK university students is the largest of its kind and revealed that:

  • Only a quarter of students (25%) who were forced into having sex went on to report it 
  • Nearly half of women (49%) said they were inappropriately touched but only 5% reported it
  • A quarter of women (26%) were sent unwanted sexually explicit messages but only 3% reported it
  • 53% of respondents had experienced these unwanted sexual behaviours from another student
  • 30% of incidents took place on campus
  • Women were more likely to experience unwanted sexual behaviours than men; 49% of women said they had been touched inappropriately compared to 3% of men

Worryingly, the survey showed a significant gap in understanding of consent and what constitutes sexual harassment and violence. 56% experienced unwanted sexual behaviours at university but only 15% realised that these behaviours counted as sexual harassment. In addition, the survey showed that students experienced confusion around sexual consent - especially when alcohol is involved - with only half (52%) understanding that it is not possible to give consent if you are drunk. 

One contributing factor to this lack of awareness may be the inadequacies of relationships and sex education (RSE) in schools. The survey showed that RSE is still heavily focused on STIs and pregnancy with only half of those surveyed having received information on consent and under a third on harassment.  

Helen Marshall, Chief Executive of Brook said:

“While we firmly believe that relationships and sex education (RSE) needs to start in school, this worryingly low reporting rate suggests that much more needs to be done at every stage of academic life. It’s really important that universities provide students with information and education on sexual harassment and the law, and ensure that their reporting procedures and support services are accessible and welcoming.

"Brook's expert RSE and wellbeing support is provided nationwide within various education settings. We will be launching an online consent course in 2019 which will help students to understand the law, the gender norms, stereotypes and cultural factors which may affect their ability to consent and will support them to communicate about consent with partners.

"We would encourage any university wishing to improve and expand their student support services to get in touch.”

Christopher Platt, CEO of Dig-In, the UK's leading student sampling and insight company said:

“We are proud that this is the largest survey ever conducted into sexual harassment of students at UK universities, the factors that influence it and students’ willingness to report such behaviours. We will continue to use our privileged position which gives us access to 80% of first year students at UK universities (as well as students who have been at university longer), to help universities better understand their intake. We believe that this will in turn, allow universities to both refine their support services and increase engagement with them, helping students to reach their full potential.”


About the survey 

The online survey was conducted by Absolute Research, on behalf of Dig-In. It was emailed out via the Dig-In database to thousands of students across the UK. A total of 5,649 responses were received between 10th January and 18th January 2019.

About Brook 

Brook believes that all young people should have access to great sexual health services and wellbeing support. Founded by Helen Brook in 1964, the charity now provides free and confidential sexual health information and services to more than 235,000 young people nationwide every year. 

Through the Brook’s clinical services in local communities, education programmes in schools, training for professionals and advocacy work, young people are better equipped to make positive and healthy lifestyle choices. 

About Dig-In 

Founded in 2014, Dig-In is a fast-growing and entrepreneurial business centered on using our extensive reach of students for positive outcomes. Dig-In provides the official student welcome box to over 140 universities and accommodation providers across the UK.  We work in partnership with a range of brands that provide information, money-off vouchers, promotional items and free samples for students, to help students save money and kickstart their first few weeks at university. 

We use our unique ability to reach and gain insights from large numbers of UK students to help improve their environment and wellbeing. In collaboration with Universities UK and the Department for Education, we are currently focusing two major areas relevant to the student experience - sexual health & harassment and mental health.

For media enquiries please contact Brook's press office on 07789 682831 or email press@brook.org.uk

Notes to editors

Brook believes that young people should have access to great sexual health services and wellbeing support.

Brook provides free and confidential sexual health information, contraception, pregnancy testing, advice and counselling, testing and treatment for sexually transmitted infections and education programmes, reaching nearly 235,000 young people nationwide every year.
Read our Strategic Plan 2017-2020 and learn more about the difference we make in our latest Success Report.