UCL is pleased to launch a report on behaviour change approach to preventing sexual misconduct conducted by UCL Centre for Behaviour Change (CBC) and commissioned by Equality, Diversity and Inclusion (EDI). The report was commissioned prior to the pandemic and has recently been completed. 

Read the full report here:
Systems approach to preventing sexual misconduct_Report.pdf 1.23 MB
Accessible version of the report: 
Systems approach to preventing sexual misconduct.docx 1.98 MB
Brief summary of preventing staff-student sexual misconduct systems-mapping report 

Overview

This report, produced by Centre for Behaviour Change (CBC), was commissioned by the Equality, Diversity and Inclusion (EDI) Team in 2019 to feed into the UCL ‘Full Stop to Sexual Misconduct’ campaign. Production of the final report has been delayed due to Covid-related issues throughout 2020/2021. 

This report analyses staff-to-student sexual misconduct in UCL as a behaviour located within a complex web of causal influences. These influences are both external (academic research culture) or internal (behaviours of others within the system, structural features of the system like polices and their implementation, and attitudes to both). The report generated a list of recommendations that can be implemented to bring about systemic change within the institution to prevent sexual misconduct. 

Method 

This research used behavioural systems mapping, an evolving methodology for understanding the actors, behaviours and influences contributing to the expression of a behaviour within a complex system. The data was collected through open ended interviews with students and staff exploring their perceptions of the chain of causality (behaviours and their influences). The data was analysed thematically to construct causal loop diagrams and behavioural systems map for sexual misconduct. 

Findings 

The report identifies six interrelated themes that contribute to the unacceptably high levels of staff to student sexual misconduct within the organisation. These themes are higher-order descriptions of a more complex and more detailed systems map generated by the research process. These are summarised below: 

1. Power imbalances, stemming from systemic inequalities that originate outside (gender, class, ethnicity, etc.) and within higher education (age, rank and status hierarchy) institutional culture, locate students at varying disadvantages and make them dependent on academic supervisors for both academic integration, and financial and career support. This is further reinforced by attitudes of victim-blaming/distrust and positive bias towards perpetrators in positions of power. 

2. The preponderance of ‘performance based’ management culture in academia and research instead of ‘people-focussed’ management feeds negatively into people-management skills in academic staff, as success is judged more on funding and impact of research than wellbeing of employees and students. This creates a culture where minor level sexual misconduct is tolerated, and avenues of early prevention and effective action missed for major sexual misconduct by staff members. 

3. Additionally, lack of people management skills contributes to low confidence or knowledge of staff to receive, identify, and act on reports of sexual misconduct brought to them, skewing resolution towards informal management of cases. 

4. Lack of communication about appropriate policies and support provisions positively reinforces an existing closed supervision system. Lack of routine opportunities for students to give upward feedback about academic supervisors means that students have no formal opportunity to give feedback about problematic behaviours (e.g., grooming) that are gateways to more harmful behaviours, or harmful behaviours themselves. 

5. When students consider formal reporting, the formal processes are perceived to be weighted in favour of academics due to special provisions reinforcing systemic inequalities of rank and status. These further cause mistrust in the university’s ability to do justice to reports thus brought. 

6.Lack of transparency regarding updates and/or outcomes of investigations due to data sharing regulations, feed into lack of trust in the organisational procedures and perceptions of the ‘high-cost’ of reporting, leading to starkly opposite perceptions of the fairness of procedures among responder staff (positive perception) and students (negative perception). 

Recommendations

The report generated a list of 22 recommendations covering all six themes. These can be grouped as follows: 
  • Focusing on a whole- institution approach to preventative and restorative work aimed at eliminating underlying enablers of sexual misconduct, rather than current dependence on reactive responses, through training and awareness, and language change.   
  • Changing the closed structure of supervision to embed multiple points of contact that students can regularly access and be trustful of, providing clearly defined codes and ways of working, and opportunities to provide a upward feedback including from students about the supervisor. 
  • Reviewing and updating all institutional policies and formal procedures that are partial towards academic staff (Statute 18, Staff Grievance Policy and Procedure, Staff Disciplinary Policy and Procedure, and the Student Disciplinary Procedure), and transparency in communicating outcomes within law. 
 
UCL has already begun acting on these. Various successful measures have already been introduced prior to launch of this report, including- more avenues of training, and enabling local teams to respond and intervene, the introduction of thesis committees to tackle the closed nature of supervision, a planned review of policies, and the establishment of a preventing harmful behaviour working group under the UCL EDI committee to spearhead different aspects of response, and preventative and restorative justice work 


The Pro-Provost (Equity & Inclusion), Sasha Roseneil, writes on the importance of this report, "Sector-research[1] spanning over a decade has highlighted the endemic issue of staff- to-student sexual misconduct within universities which affects student integration and wellbeing as well as loss of potential due to damaging effects on the careers and personal lives of victims/survivors. More recently, social movements like #MeToo, Everyone’s Invited etc. have provided a clearer description of the widespread nature of sexual misconduct that often goes unreported. The contributions of the power imbalance between staff and students, long recognised and articulated by feminist scholarship and activism features prominently in the analysis. However, the report extends this understanding by using a behavioural systems-mapping approach to describe and analyse sexual misconduct by locating it within a complex web of causality. Use of systems mapping in behavioural sciences is relatively new and has great potential for understanding the feedback loops and non-linear mechanisms of causality that contribute to the expression of a behaviour within a system. It offers the possibility of identifying the key levers that need to be changed to prevent harmful behaviours. This report and its recommendations, thus, offer potential for sector-guiding applied change in how universities approach the systemic issue of staff-to-student sexual misconduct. "

 [1] Extensive research done by organisations and individuals is cited in the main report. Some major of these are- Brook & Dig-in, 2019- Sexual violence and harassment in UK universities; 1752 group & NUS, 2018 - Power in the academy; UUK, 2016- Changing the culture; NUS, 2010- Hidden marks

Enlargeable image for the behavioural systems-map (Figure 3) is available below: 

Watch further- Videos for further details on the report context, methodology and findings, and next steps .

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