The National Union of Students is today publishing the results of its Lad Culture Audit.
Since the launch of Hidden Marks in 2010 (a study of women students’ experiences of harassment, stalking, violence and sexual assault) and That’s What She Said (women students’ experiences of ‘lad culture’ in higher education) in 2013, the knowledge, understanding and true extent of lad culture’s pervasiveness has only increased.
The Lad Culture Audit’s report is NUS’ most comprehensive analysis of lad culture policy and practice undertaken to date. The findings - which reveal a startling lack of provision, training, and support across institutions and students’ unions – are to form the cornerstone of NUS’ campaign to have a national framework embedded in order to help the thousands of students affected by sexual violence and harassment on campuses each year.
One of the key findings of the report was that many SUs and institutions lack policy directly addressing lad culture. Equality and diversity (E&D) and bullying and harassment policies were in evidence in the majority of institutions, but many were ill-defined, often not relevant to lad culture and at times unclear on what is meant by sexual harassment and assault.
Meanwhile, both SUs and institutions were shown to have ‘gaps’ in policy that specifically targets lad culture: just half of institutions (51%) had a formal policy on sexual harassment and only 1 in 10 had a policy that covers the display of sexist and discriminatory material.
Even less clear were many institutions’ policies on complaints procedures, many of which put the onus on victims to try and resolve matters ‘informally’ first.
One institution’s HR handbook said: “Speaking to the person who is causing you distress is always an informal option and an approach preferred by many in delicate circumstances. This is because sometimes individuals are genuinely not aware of the offensive effect of their behaviour and will naturally stop when it is brought to their attention.”
There is a real danger these policies are forcing victims rather than institutions to take responsibility for addressing difficult situations. If institutions fail to provide clear or sufficient information on victim support programmes available, the situation may be even further compounded.
Worryingly, the existence of lad culture training and education programmes was shown to be minimal in SUs, with only one in ten (11%) providing training and just 32% providing sexual consent workshops. The issue of consent was shown to be even less of a consideration in institutions, just 6% of which counted it as part of their curriculum.
This audit highlights that without proper support and direction from the education sector, the scarcity of training and policy evidenced will continue to foster a critical lack of awareness and action among staff and students. Despite the audit’s evidence that many SUs are beginning to wake up to the challenges inherent to tackling lad culture, they cannot make the leap alone. It is incumbent on institutions to work with their unions and other places of learning in order to create a national framework to combat sexual violence and harassment.
In order to act on the findings of the audit, nine university SUs have volunteered to take part in the Lad Culture Pilot Scheme. The scheme is also launched today and will see the SUs working with NUS to begin looking at how to build their own Lad Culture Strategy and share best practice with the other unions, NUS staff and representatives and others who have a vested interest in tackling lad culture. In turn, NUS will be learning more about the pioneering campaigns run by the pilot Sus in order to learn about the exciting and creative ways lad culture is already being tackled on campuses.
NUS Women’s Officer Susuana Amoah said:
“We, the student movement and society as a whole, are no longer in a position where we can continue to allow the issues women face on campuses across the UK and beyond to be ignored.
“Yes - women can participate in education, work and social activities, but that doesn’t mean that these spaces are accessible to all women or that women are treated fairly and respectfully. In fact, harassment, violence and blatant discrimination can make education and other spaces inaccessible for many students, not just women.
“I am proud of students’ unions and the student movement for their ongoing support and the hard work they are doing on the ground to combat this, but we need more and NUS and students’ unions cannot fix this problem alone. In order to really challenge this issue and change it, we need the education community, as a whole, to get behind us and support us in embedding a framework that will not just deal with these issues, but actually stop them from happening.
“This is our call to you to join us and challenge Lad Culture, sexual harassment and violence on campus and make education and other spaces accessible for women and many other students.”
Dr Alison Phipps, Director of Gender Studies & Reader in Sociology, University of Sussex said:
“NUS has been breaking new ground in developing and supporting initiatives to address ‘lad culture’ and sexual violence against students.
This audit has been a fantastic tool in helping students’ unions to understand these problems, how they are being dealt with on their campuses and what more needs to be done. I am full of admiration for individuals and Students’ Unions who are tackling the issues, sometimes in very unsupportive institutional contexts.
“I hope that Universities UK and other relevant organisations will meet us in our efforts, specifically through pressuring more universities to take action at institutional levels.”
Notes to editors:
- This report presents the results from the Lad Culture audit conducted between December and February 2015. The findings are based on the thirty five SUs that responded to the survey and the twenty SUs that sent through supporting policy documents for the audit.
- The students’ unions taking part in the pilot scheme are: University of Bradford, Cardiff University, Kings College London, Leeds University, LSE, Queen Mary’s University London, Oxford University, University of Sussex and University of Warwick.
- For more information contact the NUS press department: 07866 695 010, firstname.lastname@example.org