How To Prevent The Rise Of Sexual Assault Reports At UK Universities

According to a BBC investigation, with data from 124 of 157 universities, 1,436 allegations of sexual harassment or sexual violence against students were recorded in 2018/19 – an increase from just 476 in 2016/17.

This sudden rise can, in part, be attributed to the easier process put in place for students to report allegations and receive support. Having said that, university’s responses to sexual violence vary and have been known to re-traumatise the victim.

Currently, there are no minimum standards for UK universities on the security provisions they need to provide for student safety.

Growing Concerns About Sexual Violence on Campus

In 2016, Universities UK promised change to address the increasing number of sexual attacks and combat the inconsistent process of dealing with reports.

Universities UK established a Taskforce which met four times over a 12 month period to consider a vast range of evidence from a number of sources, including individual universities and other organisations such as Rape Crisis.

The Taskforce compiled a report called ‘Changing The Culture’ which provides recommendations for how universities can prevent sexual violence on campus and respond to these issues if they do occur.

Among these recommendations were:

  • Have specialist policies and practices in place for addressing reports of sexual violence
  • Undertake bystander intervention and consent workshops for students
  • Undertake a case management-based approach in individually assessing and managing each report
  • Encourage greater reporting through communications to students and staff

Bystander Intervention

Universities UK endorses bystander intervention because its effectiveness has been backed by research. Despite this, only 48 of the universities who responded to a request by the BBC said that they were using it.

Bystander intervention is a social science model. It teaches practitioners to recognise a potentially harmful situation or interaction and choose to respond in a way that could positively influence the outcome.

A bystander is anyone who observes any situation. An active bystander is someone who acknowledges a problematic situation and chooses how to respond. For example, they might offer assistance, step in or simply speak up.

Research has found that if several people are present, an individual is much less likely to help someone else, believing that another person will instead. This is called diffusion of responsibility.

Bystander intervention teaches and empowers people to overcome their resistance to helping out. It raises an individual’s confidence in their ability to perform the necessary action and mitigate the fear of misjudging the situation.

Other Preventative Measures

Similar to bystander intervention, the best options to try and prevent sexual assaults stem from being situationally aware and trusting your instincts. If you’ve got a bad feeling about someone or you feel uncomfortable, it’s always best to trust your gut and remove yourself from that person and environment.

Don’t feel embarrassed about walking away if you feel that something just isn’t right. The moment someone becomes forceful and starts pressurising you to stay – either verbally or physically – is the time to take matters into your own hands.


With the number of reports of rape, sexual assault and harassment at universities on the rise, senior officials might start looking into more robust systems to prevent sexual violence.

Investing in a personal safety solution such as a personal alarm or app could help students to feel safer around campus. Linked to a 24/7 Alarm Receiving Centre, alarms can be raised discreetly whenever the user feels endangered. Trained Controllers will listen in to the call to understand whether further action, such as calling the police, is necessary.

Peoplesafe, the leading personal safety service, offers a range of devices and a smartphone app which can be used by victims of sexual violence or as a preventative measure to stop a potential assault from happening.

To learn more about the solutions available, visit our dedicated devices page or download our Devices and Apps brochure.