Yet another panic about sexual harassment on campus has hit the headlines. In an exclusive report released this week, the Guardian has uncovered almost 300 sexual-harassment allegations made against university staff in the last six years. Sexual harassment in higher education is at ‘epidemic’ levels, it claims.
The release of campus sexual-harassment statistics is understandably always met with shock and outrage. Dr Ann Olivarius, senior partner at the law firm McAllister Olivarius, told the Guardian: ‘Young women are often terrified about the consequences if they make a complaint about a staff member. So often, when they do, the university’s chief concern is to downplay any wrongdoing and protect its own reputation by keeping the whole thing quiet.’
But just because this is a sensitive subject doesn’t mean we should take these stats at face value. The report looks at sexual-harassment investigations from 120 universities over a six-year period. Of these 120, 45 universities received no allegations of staff-on-student harassment in six years, and 22 universities received just a single allegation. Out of the allegations made, almost a third stem from just six universities. One of the six is the University of Oxford, which admits that ‘there may have been duplication between college and central administration figures’.
Clearly, this is not an epidemic. And suggesting it is does women no favours. Telling female students that they are at constant threat won’t empower them, nor will it help deal effectively with cases of sexual harassment when they do occur.
Emily Dinsmore is a writer and student. Follow her on Twitter: @EmilyRDinsmore