Scale of gender-based violence on European campuses ‘terrifying’

First results of landmark survey of 42,186 employees and students released

November 7, 2022
Source: Getty

Three-quarters of staff members in European universities have suffered some form of gender-based violence at work, but barely one in 10 victims reports it, according to a landmark study.

The data are the first release from the European Union-funded UniSAFE project, which attracted responses from 42,186 employees and students at 46 universities and research organisations spread across 15 countries, including France, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Spain and the UK. It used broad definitions to gather data missed from previous studies, which have tended to focus on sexual harassment and bullying only.

The results, published on 7 November, show that 62 per cent of respondents reported suffering from some form of gender-based violence since starting at their institution, encompassing physical violence, psychological violence such as abusive comments, sexual violence and sexual harassment – as well as online violence, such as cyberbullying, and “economic violence”, which covers behaviours such as harming someone’s work by restricting access to financial resources.

THE Campus resource: What does ‘taking sexual violence seriously’ look like at universities?

Seventy-three per cent of staff said they had been targeted, compared with 58 per cent of students. Although women were more likely to be victims – 66 per cent said they were – some 56 per cent of men said they had suffered, too.

“The sheer scale of what we are measuring is terrifying,” said Anne Laure Humbert, a survey author and director of the Centre for Diversity Policy Research and Practice at Oxford Brookes University. She said it was “horrendous” that 31 per cent of all respondents had experienced sexual harassment.

While psychological violence was most common, reported by 57 per cent of respondents, 6 per cent said they were victims of physical violence, and 3 per cent sexual violence. Ten per cent said their work or studies had been disrupted by economic violence, and 8 per cent reported online violence.

However, only 13 per cent of respondents who said they had experienced any form of gender-based violence had reported it. Being unsure if the behaviour was serious enough to report, whether it was violence, and who to tell were among the most common reasons for remaining quiet, but 12 per cent said they were concerned that their harasser would retaliate against them and 3 per cent said they had been discouraged from filing a complaint.

Of the staff who had experienced gender-based violence, 67 per cent said they felt dissatisfied with their job, almost double the figure for those who had not experienced it. Just over half of those affected said they were less productive, while about a third had disengaged from colleagues, taken time off or sought to switch teams.

Professor Humbert said the survey was the first of its kind to shed light on the intersectional impact of gender-based violence. Reporting of gender-based violence was higher among ethnic minority respondents (69 per cent versus 61 per cent for non-minorities), LGBTQ+ respondents (68 per cent versus 60 per cent for heterosexuals) and non-binary respondents (74 per cent).

Survey leader Anke Lipinsky, a senior researcher at the Leibniz Institute for the Social Sciences, said universities needed to do more to tackle gender-based violence.

“It’s clearly not enough to have a policy; you need to communicate it. A document on a shelf that is not used will not help to create a safe space,” she said.

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Reader's comments (5)

The definition is very broad and extends the idea of "violence" well beyond what you would expect in a combat situation. Is there a translation issue? Is this "violence" more or less common than in other bureaucratic systems where people compete for prestige and financial resources (i.e. budgets)?
Was this research confirming a hypothesis or investigating the ground truth? Sometimes you find a thing because you are looking for that thing, setting the expectation in the minds of respondents to view everything through a specific lens.
I was intrigued by the phrase "economic violence" - is this the gender pay gap? If so, as Stephen C says, this is a somewhat extended definition of 'violence'. Also I'd like to see a breakdown of these figures, on a large range of dimensions, such as 1) Female/Male, also by age, 2) By the different forms of 'violence' (economic, verbal, physical, pyschological, etc etc noted above), 3) By campus location, and then also 4) by ethnicity, of victim and perpetrator - for example do women suffer more 'violence' in more patriarchial socieities, if so what 'violence (physical, verbal, economic....). Is some violence religious-based, e.g. do women suffer more in very Catholic (=patriarchal?) regions? In the caribbean, women often have a more elevated social status, how does this impact on the various 'violence' incidences? More unpacking possibilities here than Pickfords does in a year?
Hmm... just what exactly were the 'broad definitions' used? If "Seventy-three per cent of staff said they had been targeted, compared with 58 per cent of students...." and this comprised 66% of women respondents and 56% of men respondents they must certainly have been pretty broad.
Report on survey results available on the project's website: Includes definition of gender-based violence in the project.