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UEA defends efforts to curb sexual assault and misconduct

PUBLISHED: 12:19 18 July 2019 | UPDATED: 12:49 18 July 2019

The UEA had the most recorded incidents of sexual misconduct, sexual assault or rape between 2014/15 and 2018/19 among UK universities who responded to an FOI request from Channel 4 News. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY

The UEA had the most recorded incidents of sexual misconduct, sexual assault or rape between 2014/15 and 2018/19 among UK universities who responded to an FOI request from Channel 4 News. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY

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A Norwich university has defended its efforts to tackle sexual assault and misconduct on campus after figures revealed it had the highest number of recorded incidents in the UK in the past five years.

Vice chancellor of the University of East Anglia, David Richardson. Picture: UEAVice chancellor of the University of East Anglia, David Richardson. Picture: UEA

The University of East Anglia (UEA) received 281 reports of inappropriate sexual conduct, sexual assault or rape between the 2014/15 and 2018/19 academic years.

The figures, obtained by Channel 4 News under the Freedom of Information Act, showed the total number of allegations made to UK universities had risen 10-fold between 2014 and 2018 from 65 to 626.

The UEA said it had worked with the students' union over the past five years to encourage victims of sexual harassment and assault to come forward, and that the increase in students reporting incidents showed the campaigns were working.

Efforts by the police and Crown Prosecution Service to encourage victims of sexual assault to come forward have yet to translate into higher prosecution rates.

Speaking to the Daily Telegraph, campaigners warned that the figures - which also revealed a high number of complaints at Cambridge University - could be the tip of the iceberg and that universities were ill-equipped to cope with the rise in reports.

Charities also warned that allegations involving alcohol, which is often the case in reports of attacks on campus, are among more difficult cases being dropped by prosecutors.

At UEA, the Never OK campaign has been encouraging students to report sexual harassment or improper sexual conduct.

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The university's vice chancellor Prof David Richardson served on the taskforce behind the Changing the Culture report by Universities UK, which examined violence against women, harassment and hate crimes affecting university students.

Following the publication of the report in October 2016 the university said it changed its approach to the reporting and recording of incidences of sexual violence.

Due to these changes, the anonymised nature of the reporting and the fact that witnesses to improper conduct could also make anonymous reports, UEA said a single incident could be reported and recorded more than once. It also said that a number of the complaints received related to historic incidents.

In a statement the university said: "We are confident that our much higher level of reporting compared to other universities is an indication that our students feel able to make reports about incidents of this kind.

"An increased rate of reporting is a positive sign that people feel more confident about reporting sexual harassment or improper sexual conduct."

Amelia Trew, welfare, community and diversity officer at UEA Students' Union, said: "Sexual harassment and violence is never OK. The UEA Students' Union has championed the reporting of all forms of sexual harassment and violence and we have worked closely with UEA on this.

"We hope that the upturn in reports reflects the confidence students at UEA have in reporting incidents to the union, the university and the police, not an upturn in incidents.

"We are not complacent and will continue to work with the university and local services to make UEA a safe campus for all."

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