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Cambridge University has ‘significant sexual misconduct problem’

Professor believes high number of reports shows victims ‘have confidence in our promise’ to take action.

Cambridge University has said it has a “significant problem involving sexual misconduct” as it emerged it had received 173 reports of improper behaviour in nine months since launching an anonymous online reporting tool.

Reports, received between the launch of the tool in May 2017 and January 31 this year, were encouraged by the university’s “Breaking the Silence” campaign against harassment and sexual misconduct.

They comprised 119 alleged student-on-student incidents, seven allegations of staff against colleagues and two of students against staff. The others did not involve staff or students.

What we now need to ensure is that those who have been affected receive the support and guidance they need Prof Graham Virgo

A university spokesman said six allegations were formally reported last term, between October and December.

Graham Virgo, Professor of English private law and pro-vice-chancellor for education at Cambridge, said other universities such as the University of Manchester had introduced similar anonymous reporting tools but Cambridge was the first to publish “such a high number of reports”.

“We expected high numbers, and view it as a metric of success,” he said, writing in an online blog. “It appears victims have confidence in our promise that these figures will be used to judge the nature and scale of sexual misconduct affecting students and staff, and to act on it accordingly.”

He added: “It supports our belief that we have a significant problem involving sexual misconduct – what we now need to ensure is that those who have been affected receive the support and guidance they need.”

Data gathered by the tool will allow the impact of initiatives and campaigns such as Breaking the Silence to start to be measured, he said.

He said that before the Breaking the Silence campaign, 52% of those reporting recent incidents thought nothing would be done if they made a complaint, and following the launch that has dropped to 30%.

“Clearly, there is work still to do, but the campaign’s message that those who report will be supported and action can be taken is starting to have an impact,” he said.

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