Cambridge University
Cambridge University: 'lad culture' has been blamed for the prevalence of sexual assaults.Wiki Commons

A survey at the University of Cambridge has revealed almost half of female students reported being "groped, pinched or touched", revealing the prevalence of sexual assaults at the British institution.

In the poll, held by the Cambridge University Student Union's Women's Campaign and Varsity Newspaper, 46% of respondents said they had been subjected to groping and touching, while 28% reported being sexually assaulted. A further 3% said they had been subjected to assault by penetration.

Of the 2,126 students polled, around 35% of the students polled said they had been subjected to sexual harassment, including inappropriate sexual comments.

Although the survey showed both male and female students were at risk of sexual assault, 91% of the perpetrators were male - revealing a significant gender bias in the nature of such incidents. From these statistics, 50% of perpetrators were known to the victim and 10 of these were cited as members of academic staff.

Overall, one in 13 women revealed they had been sexually assaulted. Students were also victims of serious and attempted sexual assaults, with 142 people saying they had experienced an attempt to be penetrated vaginally, orally or anally with genitalia, fingers or an object.

Among the reasons cited for the high number of sexual assaults, a prevalent "lad culture" was repeatedly mentioned. Propagated by social drinking cultures, many of the incidences occurred at swaps and drinking societies. Around 78% of perperators of assaults had been drinking.

Over half of the respondents stated that sexual comments, as a result of the dominant sexist culture among students, had made them feel uncomfortable. One student reported that while groping was commonplace in clubs, sexually-fuelled comments were even a problem when jogging in the daytime. Other students said the comments were often underplayed as "banter".

The survey revealed 35% of the incidences took place in the student's college at the university and at 50% night clubs around the city. One anonymous student told the Varsity newspaper: "A male student in my college lifted my top to expose my bra in front of his friends (who laughed) in my college bar. It was packed, but no one stepped forward to help me or tell him to stop. I felt uncomfortable going to the bar for a while after."

Another major concern raised by the survey was the number of incidents which went unreported, standing at 88%.

Another female student, speaking to Varsity under the alias Alice*, said Cambridge was a hostile environment in which to deal with the consequences of serious sexual assault. Making reference to a widespread "lad culture" at the university, she said she had been sexually assaulted in her first term last year.

Upon returning to the university the following term, she had remained silent about the attack: "At the time I had a strong fear I wouldn't be believed or I would be blamed for what had happened. I didn't feel I could tell anyone at Cambridge. Three weeks after I was assaulted, I was present when someone I know from college made a rape joke."

Alice* added: "There is a privileged lad culture in Cambridge that doesn't take sexual harassment and sexual assault seriously. They can make jokes because it's not something they're directly affected by; they don't think sexual violence has anything to do with them or their friends, yet they are likely to know someone affected."

A spokesperson for the university said in response: "The health and wellbeing committee is currently examining the impact of rape and sexual assaults on students in Cambridge. Its members have been meeting with student representatives and internal and external parties working in this area. They will also take into consideration the findings of the survey."

Of the university's 12,200 undergraduates, approximately 43% are female. They survey suggested further preventative measures which could be adopted by colleges, such as tackling the normalisation of drinking cultures and promoting a zero tolerance policy towards sexual harassment.