The number of sexual assaults reported by students or members of faculty have remained static or risen over recent years at two Manchester universities.
As a result of FOI requests, MM can reveal that at the University of Manchester, the number of sexual assaults reported to the university was 30 for this academic year before it moved to remote work, down from 31 for the previous academic year (2018-19), in turn up from six from the year previous (2017-18).
This is as far back as disciplinary records go.
It may be safe to assume that had the school year been unaffected by the Covid crisis, the number of assaults reported could have climbed again.
One reason the number of reports has risen so significantly could be due to the establishment of a specific service designed to deal with such reports in January of 2019.
The establishment of such a service is a big step in the right direction, but underlines just how much needs to be done to protect students from harm.
Meanwhile, at Manchester Metropolitan University, there has only been a total of 13 reports of sexual assault since September 2016.
In no academic year since then were there more than five separate reports, for an average of just 2.6 reports of sexual assault per academic year.
Both the University of Salford and the University of Bolton failed to respond to multiple identical FOI requests over a period of months.
However, MM spoke to Gemma Aitchison, a graduate of Bolton University, and founder of YES Matters, which runs workshops for young people about consent, sexual abuse, body image, and pornography to help them to stay safe.
She said: “I set up the feminist society on my first day and as a result I kept getting disclosures from students.
“Also, at the time there was an article in the Bolton news about 5 rapes of Bolton University students.
“I asked the students Union and the University what the procedure was, and it became clear that the Student Union and the University were one and the same, and that there was no procedure.
“According to their legal team there was no procedure because then they would have to record them in some way, making them look bad.
“I argued that as a parent, if I saw that a university was seen to be tackling this issue, it would encourage me to pick that one rather than pretending there is no problem.
“I suggested consent workshops for all freshers but was told that wasn’t possible and would be insulting to the male students…
“They have something called a life lounge at the moment which is supposed to cover everything from depression, anxiety and counselling and I was told students could report there.
“To me it’s not appropriate to expect the staff there to deal with issues they aren’t trained to deal with.
“They are already swamped and doing their best because they are used to tick so many boxes.
“I don’t think they support or encourage students who have experienced sexual offenses to do anything.
‘Worse than pointless’
“Although, as I have done extensive research on the justice system and a part of the EVAW coalition (End Violence Against Women) who is taking the CPS (Crown Prosecution Service) to court for the current rape conviction rate, I wouldn’t suggest that victims bother reporting to the police either.
“It’s worse than pointless.”
MM requested information from Greater Manchester Police about how many students from Manchester Universities report assaults to them per year, but they do not categorise their data in this way, so were unable to provide this information.
Nor do either of the Manchester universities categorise data to show which students reporting sexual assaults to the university also report the incident to the police, or have any mechanism to indicate whether or not involving the police is encouraged.
MM asked Ms. Aichison how universities could improve the way they deal with this problem on campus.
She said: “Compulsory workshop for all freshers on consent, respect, and where to go to get help if it happens.
“A clear stance on not tolerating it, including what happens if a student is a perpetrator.
“Staff training on disclosure support and a clear procedure for staff if they are disclosed to.
“Partnership with local support organisations for victims to be signposted to and support so their courses don’t suffer as a result of a sexual offense happening to them.
“A clear policy for parents being told what has happened.”
At the moment, she says Bolton University policy encourages blaming the victim for the behaviour of their abusers.
“It was mentioned to me, again by the legal team how girls dress,” she told MM.
“Their ideas about rape are based on myths that have been disproven over and over. Rape and sexual offenses have nothing to do with what girls are wearing unless you are arguing that men have no self-control.
“In a meeting before I spoke at European Parliament, I was told that feminism was about hating men and sexual offenses are because they have a lot of international students.
“They (Bolton University) have a feminist section in their library as well as lots of critical analysis on racism, I suggest they take a look.
“It has nothing to do with race, in fact, the figures tell us that the majority of sexual offenses towards men women and children are committed by white men and have been for decades.
“But these people are not educators, they are business-people. They are running it like a business and not a place of personal development and experience.”
However, Ms. Aichison is optimistic that the actions of the EVAW Coalition and her organisation YES Matters are bringing about positive changes.
“Well I’m personally particularly responsible for the compulsory sex education in schools coming out this year, and yes, I think it’s an improvement on young people getting their sex education from pornography.
“At the same time, men used copying porn as a defence for murder in 58 cases last year.
“Our young people are in a society we have made, and they need the tools for happy and safe relationships with themselves and others.
“We have successfully collaborated on the compulsory sex education (CSE) policy and the CSE prevention policy with the government.
“Something exciting at the moment is that in response to recent reports on victims of CSE being failed in greater Manchester, we have secured lottery funding to open our CSE rehabilitation youth service for the young people of greater Manchester.
“So that these young people who have already been failed won’t have to carry the life-long consequences and get help dealing with their trauma; so they can have their lives back because victim rehabilitation is often forgotten.”
For further information on YES Matters, click here.