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Increase in student harassment complaints

Image Credit: Exeter Guild 'Never OK' Campaign

An Exeposé investigation has revealed an increase in the amount of harassment cases reported to the University and Students’ Guild.


From 2012 to 2014, the number of student cases of harassment and bullying reported tripled, according to records held by the Dignity & Respect Advisor Network, the University led service in place to provide support for students involved.


Jo Thomas, Senior Adviser at the Guild-run Students’ Advice Unit, has told Exeposé that their service has also seen an increase in students seeking support for harassment cases.


The surge in those speaking out is thought to be due, in part, to the increased advertisement of student support services, most notably through the #NeverOK campaign launched in September 2014.


Since its launch, the campaign page on the Guild website has received 12,774 views and 704 people have signed the pledge stating that sexual harassment is ‘Never OK’.


However, concerns over the practical impact of both the Guild and University’s harassment support procedures remain.


Talking to Exeposé, an anonymous student criticised the support she was given from Guild services in her case of sexual harassment. She stated: “Although the Students’ Guild are keen to show their condemnation of sexual harassment, when it comes to dealing with specific incidents they lack the practical experience to handle complaints tactfully and sensitively.


“I was left feeling vulnerable and under-represented at a very traumatic time. Campaigns like #NeverOk would have much more credibility if they acted to provide support for victims of harassment, either through victim support sessions, or on campus counselling, rather than just distributing posters condemning something the majority of students agree to be abhorrent.


In response, a Guild spokesperson commented: “Appropriate support services are signposted through our Advice Unit such as counselling, mediation and any other external services specific to an individual case.”


While the Dignity and Respect Network hold seven years of case records, a specific category for sexual harassment is currently under review. This news comes amid a recent article in The Guardian citing that fewer than half of Russell Group universities are monitoring the number of  students affecited by sexual assault.


When Exeposé investigated the harassment section of the University’s website, two broken hyperlinks directing students towards support services were found. Despite attempts to access them between 25 May and 29 May, web pages for both The Residence Life Team and the Students’ Advice Unit were unavailable.


A University spokesperson said: “The welfare of every student is our highest priority and the University has strict procedures in place to deal with any complaint of alleged harassment or abuse. The University responds promptly and sensitively to complaints, and would undertake a disciplinary investigation if appropriate which could result in serious disciplinary sanctions, up to and including suspension or expulsion.”




Sarah Gough, Editor


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