There’s a worrying trend of underreporting in higher education (HE) institutions. Completing manual and extensive forms potentially deter students from making their report in the first place.
Research carried out by Revolt Sexual Assault found only one in 10 students who experienced sexual violence at university reported it.
To tackle these challenges and give students confidence, institutions must provide comprehensive reporting processes and impartial support for all concerned. Here’s how to be proactive against underreporting, gain a better picture of your students and incite reliance in your services.
- Engage with students for a better understanding
- Signpost guidance
- Transparency is key when responding
- Refine your incident reporting process
Engage with students for a better understanding
Almost 100 universities were surveyed by Universities UK as a follow-up to its harassment and hate crime taskforce (Changing the Culture). When exploring how institutions are addressing some of the challenges raised and acting on its recommendations, the responses to the survey showed:
- 81% improved support for reporting students and 67% improved support for responding students
- 78% provided students with clear information on how to report an incident
- 72% developed or improved recording of data on incidents with a more centralised approach
While it’s clear progress is being made, the purpose stays the same. Victim-survivors need to be listened to, believed and appropriately supported instead of feeling further victimised or traumatised by reporting.
The Office for Students (OfS) has outlined a robust procedure to follow. But it’s also important to engage with a diverse range of students and learn from those who’ve been involved in disclosures. This gives you a better understanding of where you can make potential improvements tailored to your institution.
Research has shown black and minority ethnic students feel less confident about reporting incidents than white students. That’s why it’s crucial to implement a system which every student has confidence in.
Engage with students for a better understanding
Sharing easy-to-understand information for all students and staff on how they can report, disclose or seek support if they experience or witness any incident is vital.
You should communicate policies and processes for reporting to all students in an accessible way. For example, as part of early communication with prospective students or easy-to-read infographics.
HE institutions should ensure students involved in an investigatory process have access to appropriate and effective support. Minimal communication of these resources is a missed opportunity to instil confidence in victim-survivors when they need it most.
Transparency is key when responding
Visible and easy-to-understand information should be available for all staff and students about your investigatory process, decision-making process and associated timeframes. Having a designated person who’s responsible for keeping those affected informed about what’s happening will help students to feel confident you’re handling the situation appropriately.
HE providers should have a fair and accessible approach to taking action in response to reports and disclosures. It provides certainty for the student on when they’ll next hear from the staff member - even if there’s nothing to update.
You also need a clear explanation of how you’ll use confidential information and the protections in place for individuals within investigatory and disciplinary processes.
Refine your incident reporting process
The importance of having visible and accessible reporting mechanisms in place for students is clear. It’s apparent there’s no one-size-fits-all strategy and institutions need to be flexible with their approach and the questions they ask to remain sensitive yet supportive.
Manual reporting processes can sometimes be drawn out and lack anonymity, adding further barriers that discourage victim-survivors from reporting. It’s also important to note that the more questions you have, the more likely a student will bounce and not complete the report.
Automation can help to empower students and this is where intelligent and intuitive reporting platforms support that. They can give you the tools to learn more about your culture and identify patterns of behaviour through real-time reporting. This helps you to take a preventative approach to issues that might otherwise go unheard.
Goldsmiths, University of London introduced a 10-point plan to address sexual harassment and violence. Since then, they’ve introduced the Report + Support tool which positively impacted students and how they report, resulting in enough insight to publicly publish their figures.
Reporting is difficult enough. Don’t overcomplicate it with extensive and invasive questions. A quick improvement to increase the chances of incidents being reported is by opting for a simple step-by-step questionnaire, making it easier than ever for students to get support.
The most precious resource is time. With automation on your side, you can better focus on actually addressing these issues and giving them the well-deserved attention they need.
As mentioned, there are intelligent reporting and support platforms ready to help you enhance your processes. They work alongside those you already have in place to be that guiding light for students who can’t wait for student services to open or don’t have the confidence to articulate their incident in a written form.
More inclusive reporting systems are quickly becoming commonplace in HE. These technological advancements encourage efficiencies and invite more positive student experiences.
To learn more about driving more effective reporting processes in your institution and break down the barriers, get in touch with Culture Shift.