This week’s Varsity investigation has uncovered the current inadequacy of college sexual harassment policies across the University. The policies are inconsistent, and many lack clarity regarding the procedure that should be followed. This means that the decision to come forward with a complaint is more difficult, particularly considering the emotion state of someone that has been sexually harassed.

The lack of clarity and discrepancies across colleges is perhaps reflective of a wider cultural problem where sexual harassment is often not dealt with directly, and where many are ignorant of the prevalence of sexual harassment. There has been a distinct lack of research into sexual harassment policy in the UK, with a recent NUS report on ‘lad culture’ noting that research into “violence against women students in the UK is still in its infancy”. However, in 2010, 68 per cent of students questions were found to have experienced some form of sexual harassment – a stark illustration of the extent of the issue.

While it is clear that there is a wider problem, there are obvious issues at Cambridge that must be addressed. The lack of transparency about college procedures and some of the language used suggest that there is a university-wide culture where the greater concern is to hush up complaints, rather than seeking to discipline those found guilty of sexual harassment.

The focus on informal resolution in a number of the policies seems to be indicative of this. Emmanuel College’s policy, for example which is taken from the University Student Handbook, states: “Since formal complaint is commonly stressful and burdensome to all parties, it is important to make every effort to achieve resolution and informally before resorting to it.”

Anecdotal experience suggests that a lack of training and general understanding has been found to be one of the main obstacles to reaching a satisfactory outcome in these cases. While more formalized welfare training for new college tutors should address this in part, it is not enough.

There needs to be an urgent review of college sexual harassment policies, which differentiates sexual harassment from bullying and racial harassment. A policy concerning sexual harassment should clearly detail each stage of the procedure, and who to go to for help. In fact, Jesus College already has a policy that does this and there is a no reason why other colleges should not follow suit. Examples of what constitutes sexual harassment and what actions should be taken in each instance would be a welcome addition to college policies. There should also be no implications in the language that complaints will not be taken seriously or brushed aside. We need a zero-tolerance policy to sexual harassment that works.