Vicky Spratt | Deputy Editor | Monday, 7 September 2015

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Government Calls For Crackdown On 'Lad Culture' In Universities

The Debrief: Business Secretary Sajid Javid has written to universities instructing them to set up a taskforce to look into sexist ‘lad culture’ and violence against women

Over the weekend Sajid Javid, the Secretary of State for Business, wrote to universities across the country asking them to set up a task force to investigate the ‘sexual and verbal assault’ against women on campus. He wants a code of practice developed for dealing with incidents to bring about a complete ‘culture change’ and end ‘lad culture’ in universities.

The fact that so much abusive or sexist behaviour at universities is passed off under the auspices of ‘banter’, demonstrates just how insidious the ‘culture’ in question is. Far from being funny, though, such ‘banter’ is actually assault which can endanger its female targets. 

As things stand there is no official data as to how many women suffer verbal or sexual assaults at university. However, 1 in 7 women responding to the NUS Hidden Marks survey last year reported experiencing a serious physical or sexual assault during their time as a student. Over two thirds had experienced verbal or non-verbal harassment, including groping, flashing and unwanted sexual comments, and 12% of respondents had been subjected to stalking. 

The government’s announcement comes after it emerged last weekend that Hannah Stubbs, a 22 year-old student at Keele University, had committed suicide at her parents home in Stafford after she reported being raped by another undergraduate in March, according to her family. Hannah needed medical treatment after the attack and did not return to her course. Sajid Javid says that police should be involved in cases of alleged rape, even if students have gone to the university staff in confidence.

Javid says ‘nobody should be put off going to university because of fears about safety’. He has three daughters himself and says, ‘I would expect my daughter to be as safe as my son on any campus in this country.’ He also, rightly, points out, ‘We do not tolerate this behaviour in any part of society, and I’m not prepared to let it take place on university campuses unchecked.’

He means business, and is prepared to bring in new laws ‘if the task force comes back with new ideas that might even require some kind of legislation or intervention… This is a very serious issue and we will approach it in that way.’

Unlike universities in America, there is currently no specific legislation on this in the UK. British universities, unlike their transatlantic counterparts, are not obliged to publish figures of crime against their students. 

Last year leading Ivy League universities including Harvard and Princeton were included on a list, put together by the White House, of institutions failing to comply with their legal obligations for dealing with alleged sexual assaults on their campuses. California then became the first state to introduce a ‘yes means yes’ law, under which students must get explicit consent from their partner before having sex with them, the consent isn’t seen as valid if the other person is drunk. 

All of this demonstrates that this is not just a national issue, but a global one. Speaking to The Sunday Times Javid said, ‘People talk about this lad culture and that’s hard to define and figure out what causes that.’ But surely this conversation is long overdue? How many of us have heard offensive and outrageous phrases like, ‘It’s not rape if you shout “banter”,’ being banded around by male drinking societies?

‘Lad culture’ and ‘rape culture’ are ubiquitous, it’s definitely time to call them out and take concrete action on the issue of sexual and verbal assault at university.  

The decision to set up a taskforce and tackle this head on is essential to protect the wellbeing of female students across the country. 

You may also be interested in:

Women Get Payout From University Following Terrible Response To Rape And Sexual Assault Reports 

Banter Is Just A Way Of Silencing Rape Culture On Student Campuses 

Girl Protesting Rape Graduates From College. Takes Mattress Too. 

Follow Vicky on Twitter @Victoria_Spratt 

Tags: Politics, University, Sexual Assault