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Tuesday 4 May 2021

More than 185,000 UK university staff and students suffer domestic abuse every year

Ground-breaking new guidance puts domestic abuse policy firmly on the agenda at UK universities.

New research from the Honour Abuse Research Matrix (HARM) network led by the University of Central Lancashire (UCLan) has estimated that more than 185,000 UK university staff and students suffer domestic abuse every year.

The HARM network calculated this figure based on Crime Survey data from the Office for National Statistics for 2020, along with UK staff and student number statistics for 2019/2020, which showed that 162,073 full or part-time university students and 23,760 university staff experienced domestic abuse every year.

Through a rapid review, the network found that no academic research currently exists on domestic abuse policy or guidance at universities in the UK, and just 1.5 percent of UK universities have specific domestic abuse policies.

The research has now been used to inform new Domestic Abuse Policy Guidance for UK Universities, which is the first guidance of its kind. It is an effective ‘how-to’ guide aimed at university policy managers and human resources leads providing insights into the forms of domestic abuse and the effects on victims and detailed information on what university policies need to cover.

The rapid review involved three phases of investigation: a search of scientific databases to locate academic literature on domestic abuse policies at universities in the UK, a scoping study of all 133 UK public university websites to extrapolate information on domestic abuse policies, and an online survey to HR departments at all 133 UK universities to collect information on domestic abuse policies beyond that available on their public websites.

Key recommendations include:

  • Universities must aim to develop specific and inclusive domestic abuse policies that are separate from broader safeguarding policies, and that consider the diversity of staff and students.
  • Domestic abuse policies must detail how to respond effectively to perpetrators and must be subject to annual reviews.
  • Specialist domestic abuse awareness and safeguarding training must be compulsory for specific ‘Champions’ that are easily contactable and can help to support anyone with concerns. This training should also be optional for all staff and students.

"It is clear that UK universities do not consider domestic abuse to be their problem. There needs to be a change in attitudes at UK universities. They have clear legal, moral, and financial drivers to develop domestic abuse policy, to reduce the devastating impact on staff and students at their place of work or study."

UCLan's Dr Roxanne Khan, Senior Lecturer and Director of the HARM network

Speaking about HARM’s research findings, UCLan’s Dr Roxanne Khan, Senior Lecturer and Director of the HARM network, said: “It is clear that UK universities do not consider domestic abuse to be their problem. There needs to be a change in attitudes at UK universities. They have clear legal, moral, and financial drivers to develop domestic abuse policy, to reduce the devastating impact on staff and students at their place of work or study.”

The guidance has been supported by Universities UK President, Professor Julia Buckingham, CBE, who said: “I am grateful to Dr Roxanne Khan and all the experts who contributed to this much-needed guidance to support universities in responding effectively to domestic abuse.

“This will be a valuable resource for all leaders in helping to ensure that our students and staff are supported to have the best possible experience at university and to help build a stronger, more equitable university culture.”

The network, led by Dr Khan, teamed up with a panel of experts, including Women’s Aid CEO, Farah Nazeer; Domestic Abuse Commissioner for England and Wales, Nicole Jacobs; Professor Graham Towl, Durham University, and Fiona Waye, Policy Manager at Universities UK, to issue universities with comprehensive guidance to enable them to develop effective policy to support staff and students experiencing domestic abuse.

UCLan has already been working closely with Dr Khan and the HARM team to further develop its own policy around domestic abuse. Ken Lee, Chief People Officer at UCLan, commented: “It’s very encouraging to see this research addressing an incredibly important national issue. As part of our own commitment to developing a suite of policies under the heading of ‘Respect’, UCLan is currently working closely with the HARM team to use this guidance to inform our own policy development over the next few months, in line with our ethos of having a safer campus community for all and looking out for each other.”

5 May 2021