Rape and sexual assault reports 'rise tenfold' at UK universities with Cambridge University in spotlight

Olivia Tobin

Allegations of rape and sexual assault have risen tenfold at UK universities, with Cambridge seeing some of the highest claims, an investigation has revealed.

The number of allegations made to universities per year rose from 65 in 2014 to 626 in 2018, Freedom of Information requests by Channel 4 News show.

The investigation found the University of East Anglia had the highest number of reports, followed by Cambridge University.

The UAE had 281 reports since 2014, while Cambridge received 165 in the last three years. The University of Birmingham also recorded 87.

It is feared that this could be the “tip of the iceberg” as campaigners warn that universities are not equipped to with the flood of complaints and risk leaving a “generation betrayed”.

The Crown Prosecution Service and Police strongly encourage victims to come forward and report crimes.

Each university stressed that the number of reports included historic allegations, many of which may have occurred off campus and did not reflect the number of incidents at the universities themselves.

The investigation found a Cambridge student had felt let down after she said her college told her alleged attacker when she grew frustrated at their response and called the police.

Senior Pro-Vice-Chancellor (Education) Professor Graham Virgo, of Cambridge University, said: “It was exactly this kind of case that made us push for a change in the sector four years ago. Before that, universities were directed to refer such cases to the police. Now, victims retain the option to go to police, but we can investigate and take action ourselves.

“The reason Cambridge made this and other big changes – including launching an anonymous reporting tool (from where most of these numbers come) – is that we know how difficult it is for students to report such incidents.

“That is why we make public the number of anonymous reports we receive. That is also why two years ago, with student support, we launched our ‘Breaking the Silence’ campaign to encourage awareness and reporting.

“I know from listening to students that no matter how well an investigation is handled it can be an extremely difficult experience. We are doing everything we can to make sure students feel supported.

“Sexual harassment is an issue for all universities, and for society – 1 in 4 UK women between the ages of 16 and 24 are subjected to some form of sexual violence. It is one of the most underreported crimes as a result of stigma and victim blaming attached to it. We have to continue to address this and we will.”

A Department for Education spokesman told the Telegraph: “Sexual violence and harassment is disgusting. It can have a devastating impact on victims and is completely unacceptable – they should always be reported so action can be taken.

“That’s why we asked Universities UK to establish a specific taskforce to tackle Sexual violence and harassment and tasked the Office for Students (OfS) to work with institutions to implement its recommendations.

“Additionally, the OfS and its predecessor body have invested £4.7m to support projects focussed on tackling sexual and gender-based violence, online harassment and hate crime in higher education.”