More than two-fifths of students who experience sexual harassment say it happens every night they go out, according to research commissioned by alcohol responsibility campaign Drinkaware.

61% of students want their university to campaign against such sexual harassment and three quarters would like them to take disciplinary action against the perpetrators – but 46% don’t know what stance their university takes on sexual harassment and only a third feel confident they’d be believed if they reported it to university staff.

The report also reveals that, in the past year, 54% of female students and one in seven male students had experienced inappropriately sexual comments, touching, or even abuse while in their university towns.

The research comes as part of Drinkaware’s anti-harassment campaign ‘You Wouldn’t Sober, You Shouldn’t Drunk’. Approximately 2,000 students from across the country were surveyed to produce the figures.

Elaine Hindal, Chief Executive of Drinkaware, said: “Students have told us that drunken sexual harassment is a common and unwelcome part of a night out, yet they don’t feel empowered to stand up to it.

“Touching another person in a sexual way without their consent is legally defined as sexual assault. It’s a criminal offence and being drunk is no excuse for it.”

Coincidentally, the campaign was launched just before a user on anonymous messaging app Yik Yak accused the Engine Shed, now operated by the University of Lincoln Students’ Union, of being “the only place I’ve ever felt genuinely unsafe on a night out” with regular “fights, sexual assaults, and attacks”.

It provides a sharp contrast to the SU’s recent award for venue safety, which – according to the National Union of Students – puts them as being the second safest student venue in the country.

However, the Students’ Union denied such an incident had taken place, following an investigation.

“We have a very small number of incidents that take place in our venues,” said James Brooks, the SU’s Chief Executive Officer. “But when they do all, however minor, are recorded in an incident log which is reviewed the following day by a senior manager in the Students’ Union.

“Should an incident have occurred such as alleged on Yik Yak, this would have been treated extremely seriously and appropriate action taken against the perpetrators. ULSU operates a safe space for its members, we want all our students to be able to socialise and enjoy themselves free from any intimidation or discrimination.  This is fundamental to this organisation and our members have told us this.

“Should a student or guest feel intimidated or witness unacceptable behaviour, then this is reported to a member of our door supervisory team or duty manager in person on the night in question, so we can take immediate action. We also have procedures following an event where incidents can be reported to our reception or to our Students’ Union Advice Centre where students will able to be supported.”

Lincoln SU were also keen to stress the results of their most recent annual membership survey. Of the 1,876 students who completed the survey, 97% agreed the SU’s venues were safe:

Lincoln SU graph
‘Events organised by the Students’ Union are…’: the results of the SU’s last membership survey (Image: University of Lincoln Students’ Union)

“As has recently been reported by Drinkaware, students nationally are very concerned about sexual harassment,” confirmed the SU’s VP Welfare and Community, Wade Baverstock. “Having been in my role for three months, I was very impressed at the systems and procedures that we have in place to support and deal with incidents that occur.

“I will be running a campaign over this year to raise awareness that sexual harassment is not acceptable in whatever form and that anyone who feels that they have been a victim should report it to the appropriate authorities.

“The Students’ Union Advice Centre and myself are able to support and help students with this and if an incident has taken place at an SU event or on our premises we will take a zero tolerance approach upon the person responsible.”

Drinkaware’s Elaine Hindal continued: “Universities are well placed to support students who have experienced unwanted sexual attention and to campaign against it but students are still more likely to tell a friend than anyone in authority. That’s why we’re encouraging universities and young adults to reinforce the message that if a behaviour isn’t acceptable sober, it isn’t acceptable drunk.”