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Harassment Of Women 'Endemic' At Universities

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British universities are failing to respond to endemic levels of harassment against female students as new evidence raises questions about campus safety, it is being warned.

A survey of female students at universities across the UK  found one in three has experienced discrimination or sexual harassment, with more than half of those instances taking place on a university campus.

Of female students who had these experiences, 93% did not report them, the survey found.

Of the students who did report incidents including serious sexual violence, one said she had dropped out of lectures to avoid seeing the male student responsible, while no action was taken against him.

"No one cares. We all have to live with this guy in our lectures and classes," described another.

One female student said her case was "dropped by the police after pressure from the university".

The survey, by student website Hexjam is the latest in a series of revelations about the extent of harassment and sexual violence on campuses across the UK, after a 2010 study by the National Union of Students found that one in seven female students had experienced a serious physical or sexual assault.

"This is something that’s very common across universities," said NUS women’s officer Susuana Antubam.

"Institutions are dealing with cases of sexual assault as they would an argument - putting victims and perpetrators in the same room, and telling them to work it out.

"We see institutions give students no support whatsoever and wanting the students to take it outside the campus rather than deal with it in the campus," Antubam added.

Universities are under growing pressure to show that they are willing to acknowledge the problem and take measures to tackle it.

Former Oxford student Elizabeth Ramey took the university to court for its failure to support her after she reported being raped by a fellow student.

Instead she says the university insisted she go to the police, without undertaking an investigation or disciplinary action of its own.

Ramey's legal action was unsuccessful after a judge ruled she could not challenge the university as she was no longer a student by the time the case came to court.

The lawyer who represented Ramey says there are likely to be more legal actions brought by female students, with many universities still basing their rape policy on "The Zellick Report" - obscure guidelines written in 1994 by law professor Graham Zellick, which advise universities against investigating "serious" criminal offences.

"I'm astonished and appalled that something so old is still be given so much credence. It predates the human rights act, it predates the Equalities Act, it predates a lot of the cases," said Louise Whitfield, partner at Deighton Pierce Glynn.

"What they are doing by failing to investigate rape allegations is creating a hostile environment. It dissuades women from reporting rapes, it makes them think that they are going to be vulnerable to assaults and have no redress against their attacker."

The government said it was working to improve safety for female students.

"Students should be safe at all times on campus," said a spokesperson from the Department for Business Innovation and Skills which has responsibility for universities. "The Government will continue to work with universities to ensure students remain safe."

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