St. Johns, Cambridge
© MJH Photobraphy / Shutterstock
The number of reported rapes and sexual assaults at British universities has risen tenfold in four years, new figures have shown.

In 2018 there were 626 alleged sex crimes at universities which provided statistics, up from 65 in 2014.

Over that period there have been nearly 2,000 cases of rape, sexual assault or harassment. Of those who provided figures, Cambridge, Birmingham and the University of East Anglia had the highest number, a Channel 4 News investigation found.

Campaigners say a culture of 'blackout drinking' is partly to blame for the growing numbers, and fear that the number of crimes that are reported may only be the 'tip of the iceberg', the Daily Telegraph reported.

Birmingham has queried the figures, saying there were only 14 'formal complaints relating to sexual assault' in the last five years.

Writing for the newspaper, Channel 4's Cathy Newman said many students felt unable to take their concerns to the police.

Some said they were nervous about appearing in court or feared they would not be believed if they came forward.

Others are said to have been concerned about having their phone messages read by authorities and 'taken out of context'.

One campaigner, Charlotte Proudman, said some women had been turned away by British universities when they went to report sex crimes.

'Often the consequence is that these complaints are swept under the carpet and women not prosecuted,' she said.

'These victims are not given the support they so desperately require.'

The National Union of Students has previously warned of the dangers of 'lad culture' which involves the objectification of women.

They warned it tends to 'reside in activities such as sport and heavy alcohol consumption' and sometimes 'spills over into sexual harassment and violence.'

Cambridge offers a University Sexual Assault and Harassment Advisor and runs a campaign called 'Breaking the Silence' to tackle sex crimes.

The university website has an online form for anonymously reporting harassment and sexual misconduct.

It prompts students to explain why they are reporting anonymously, with options including 'I am worried about being called a trouble maker' and 'I feel partly to blame for what happened'.

Those reports are used to gather data, but students still have to make a formal report to the university or the police if they wish to take action against the alleged attacker.

Counselling services are available to students whether or not the assault or harassment took place at the university, the Cambridge website says.

At UEA in Norwich, university bosses say they encourage students to report any sex crimes to the university authorities.

University advisers can help students discuss whether they want to make a formal complaint, they say, and there is an online reporting form like at Cambridge.

UEA also offers a confidential room on campus for students who want to speak to the police away from their home.

Birmingham, also named as one of the top three, has an online reporting form like Cambridge and UEA do.

The university runs a 'Not On' campaign to raise awareness about sexual harassment issues.

A university spokesman said: 'The safety and wellbeing of our students is of paramount importance and we have invested significantly in taking a proactive, wrap-around approach to supporting students in reporting any incidents whenever and wherever they may have occurred - including during childhood, prior to attending university, while on vacation or overseas, or away from university.

Comment: Fine sentiment, wrong approach. The rise of 'safetyism' is itself a danger, creating a generation of weak, entitled, emotionally immature 'adults'.

'This includes help with accessing specialist support and counselling services, working with the police, and pursuing any formal action against the perpetrators.'

However, they accused Channel 4 of 'misrepresenting' the data, saying that there were only 14 formal complaints of sexual assault in five years.

A recent report by MPs cited surveys which found that 64 per cent of women - rising to 85 per cent among 18 to 24-year-olds - had experienced unwanted sexual attention in public places, with 35 per cent reporting unwanted touching.

More than 60 per cent of girls and young women said they did not feel safe walking home and growing numbers of girls said they felt unsafe online.

The report detailed incidents ranging from wolf-whistling to unwanted sexual comments, groping and sexual rubbing on public transport, upskirt photographs, rape threats and men exposing themselves.