Research reveals rapes and assaults admitted to by male UK students

The first survey examining sexual violence by male UK students has shone a light on misogyny at universities, with scores admitting to rape, sexual assault and other forcible acts.

Of the 554 male students surveyed, 63 reported that they had committed 251 sexual assaults, rapes and other coercive and unwanted incidents in the past two years, according to researchers at the University of Kent.

The study, Understanding Sexual Aggression in UK Male University Students, examined both the psychological profiles of sexually violent male students and their self-reported rates of offending.

It identified a strong association between toxic masculinity and sexual violence, with those who reported committing offences also admitting to misogynistic views, such as believing that women who get drunk are to blame if they get raped, and having sadistic sexual fantasies about raping or torturing women.

Such views and fantasies were not held by participants who did not report sexual misconduct and violence, the study noted.

The research comprised two online surveys, one of 295 students from 100 UK universities and another of 259 students at a university in south-east England.

Participants were asked detailed questions about a range of sexual scenarios, including having sex with someone intoxicated by drugs or alcohol, and their attitudes towards women and romantic relationships.

In the first survey, 30 participants reported they had committed 145 sexually aggressive acts over the past two years, with sexual coercion being the most common, followed by rape and attempted rape and unwanted sexual contact.

In the second survey, 33 men reported perpetrating 106 sexually aggressive acts over the same timeframe, with a third of those declaring they had committed three or more. All of the participants identified as heterosexual but five reported female and male victims, and one a male victim only.

The report’s co-author Samuel Hales, a PhD researcher at the University of Kent’s Centre of Research and Education in Forensic Psychology, said: “Of the 63 perpetrators who took part in either the first or second study, 37 reported perpetrating unwanted sexual contact, 32 sexual coercion and 30 rape or attempted rape.

“Some of these offences would’ve been perpetrated just before they started university, including while they were at school.

“Perpetrators were significantly more likely to endorse offence-excusing myths associated with rape, eg victims are to blame for being assaulted, and to have more negative sexist and hostile views about women, eg believing that many of their troubles were the fault of women, and to report sexually fantasising more about harmful, such as physically hurting their sexual partner when they didn’t have consent to do so.”

Hales said the findings suggested that UK universities should appoint staff to work with sexually aggressive students who are banned from campus – but later return – to reduce the risk of them re-offending.

Prof Nicole Westmarland, director of the Durham Centre for Research into Violence and Abuse, said: “The association between rape supportive beliefs, negative attitudes towards women and actually committing acts of violence and abuse is one that has been demonstrated before in research in US universities.

“This study shows the same to be the case in the UK and points to the need for universities to step up their focus on perpetrators while providing victims with the support and action they need following sexual assault.”

Soma Sara, the founder of Everyone’s Invited, a movement set up to tackle rape culture, welcomed the report.

She said: “We have always believed that sexist beliefs, misogyny and toxic masculinity leads to predatory behaviour. The importance of exposing rape culture across society should not be underestimated.

“Sexism is part of a continuum of violence and when any individual is dehumanised they become vulnerable to violence.

“Let’s help men and boys to become well-informed role models who have the courage to be proactive, to call out behaviour and hold their friends accountable.”

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